Mises Institute: Decentralization Is a Step toward Self-Determination

Ryan McMaken at the Mises Institute writes that Decentralization Is a Step toward Self-Determination about state pre-emption laws.

For decades now, advocates for freedom and free markets have disagreed over whether or not political decentralization and local self-governance are important principles in themselves.

Most recently, this debate flared up here at mises.org over the issue of state-level preemptions of local government. Specifically, Connor Mortell objected to the State of Florida’s prohibition of local policymaking autonomy on the issue of covid lockdowns and mandates.

In response, a number of readers both in social media and in the comment section here at mises.org insisted that centralization of political power is fine so long as it’s the good guys who are doing the centralization.

We’ve certainly been here before. Indeed, this debate is essentially identical to the one over whether or not the US Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision was a good thing. In that case, both sides were in agreement that eminent domain powers—practiced by any level of government—are a bad thing.

The disagreement was over whether or not states and the federal government ought to be able to prohibit local governments from exercising local eminent domain powers.

Lew Rockwell, building on Murray Rothbard’s decentralist views, took the position that eminent domain is bad (of course), but faraway governments ought not be in the business of meddling in local affairs to prevent it.

In an article titled “What We Mean by Decentralization” Rockwell writes:

The Kelo decision, in which the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case of a local government taking of private property, touched off a huge debate among libertarians on the question of decentralization. The most common perspective was that the decision was a disaster because it gave permission to local governments to steal land. Libertarians are against stealing land, and so therefore must oppose the court decision.

And yet stealing isn’t the only thing libertarians are against. We are also opposed to top-down political control over wide geographic regions, even when they are instituted in the name of liberty.

Hence it would be no victory for your liberty if, for example, the Chinese government assumed jurisdiction over your downtown streets in order to liberate them from zoning ordinances. Zoning violates property rights, but imperialism violates the right of a people to govern themselves. The Chinese government lacks both jurisdiction and moral standing to intervene. What goes for the Chinese government goes for any distant government that presumes control over government closer to home.

Rockwell doesn’t mention it, but he’s likely taking a page from Ludwig von Mises here on the matter of “self determination.” For Mises, self-determination was a key element in limiting the power of political regimes and opposing the “princely principle” of political centralization and maximization of a state’s area of control.

Mises and “Self-Determination”

As Mises put it in Nation, State, and Economy, the “doctrine of freedom” offers an alternative—“the principle of the right of self-determination of peoples, which follows necessarily from the principle of the rights of man.”

Mises goes on to clarify that this type of self-determination is also about local control:

To call this right of self-determination the “right of self-determination of nations” is to misunderstand it. It is not the right of self-determination of a delimited national unit, but the right of the inhabitants of every territory to decide on the state to which they wish to belong.

What does this mean in practice? Mises insists on the right of inhabitants to choose their own state. By this he means that localized groups of people with similar cultural and political interests—even down the level of a village—must have the freedom to function independently of the impediments of a larger centralized state. 

Murray Rothbard, not surprisingly, was in agreement with this, and noted the implications of Mises’s position: that self-determination at the local level is a key step in securing self determination not only for small groups, but for individuals themselves.

The reasons for this are numerous, and they’re why most libertarians (i.e., the liberals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Constant) preferred local government to government by larger, less local regimes. Like his liberal predecessors, Mises understood that larger “national” regimes tend toward abuses committed by large majorities on smaller linguistic, cultural, ideological, and ethnic groups.1

These problems tend to be made less bad by more localization. 

Decentralization of this sort is also important, because it allows individuals greater ability to exercise their freedoms by more easily changing the regime under which they live. Rothbard explains that decentralization

means greater competition between governments of different geographical areas, enabling people of one State to zip across the border to relatively greater freedom more easily; and it exalts the mighty libertarian principle of secession, which we hope to extend on down from the region to the city to the block to the individual.

Rothbard speaks of state boundaries—here meaning the American political units called “states” and not to be confused with the Weberian sovereign state—but of course he also applied the same principle down to local governments:

Pending total privatization, it is clear that our model could be approached, and conflicts minimized, by permitting secessions and local control, down to the micro-neighborhood level, and by developing contractual access rights for enclaves and exclaves. In the U.S., it becomes important, in moving toward such radical decentralization, for libertarians and classical liberals—indeed, for many other minority or dissident groups—to begin to lay the greatest stress on the forgotten Tenth Amendment and to try to decompose the role and power of the centralizing Supreme Court. Rather than trying to get people of one’s own ideological persuasion on the Supreme Court, its power should be rolled back and minimized as far as possible, and its power decomposed into state, or even local, judicial bodies.

“Uniformity” Is No Virtue

Nonetheless, one recent commenter at mises.org argues local autonomy is unacceptable because travelers ought not have to deal with a patchwork of different legal regimes:

[In Wisconsin] I drive 40 miles to work and 40 back. I pass through at least 8 different towns on the way. If every town had different gun laws, my freedom to protect myself [with legal concealed weapons] would be compromised or curtailed altogether.

The conclusion we are presumably supposed to draw is that some centralized political authority must intervene to ensure uniformity among laws, presumably in a way that protects the rights of residents. Of course, this sort of reasoning takes the naïve view that the central government is likely to implement laws that favor the legality of concealed weapons. Experience suggests this is a rather fanciful notion, and we can see the benefits of local control if we consider the case of a state that takes an unfavorable view toward firearms.

Consider New York State, for example, where the state government heavily restricts the use and ownership of firearms. It is likely that many towns and cities in the northern and western part of the state, however, would prefer to allow more freedom in firearms usage in their jurisdictions. If these local communities were allowed local control,  at least the residents in those communities would have greater freedom with firearms. But as it is, the presence of a strong centralized state government ensures these freedoms are heavily curtailed everywhere within the state. Thus, the overall amount of freedom is greater in a scenario with decentralized political power.

The argument that laws ought to be uniform is equally suspect when dealing with passing across state borders. For example, consider a commuter who must drive from southern Maine to the northern end of the Boston metro area. This is a trip of only about eighty miles, but requires the commuter to travel through three states. Two of these states tend to be permissive on guns—Maine and New Hampshire—but Massachusetts tends to heavily restrict firearms usage and ownership.

If uniformity in law is important, then we must therefore insist that the federal government intervene to ensure that we aren’t inconvenienced by the fact gun laws change every time we cross state lines. 

But, of course, we know how well that would work out. Inviting federal lawmakers to “protect rights” or make gun laws “uniform” would almost certainly result in far more restriction than is currently the state in many states. Unfortunately, uniformity across state lines tends to favor the areas with the most restrictive mandates.

The Problem with Asking Higher Levels of Government to Protect Our Rights

Another objection is that a profreedom position requires support of any regime that lowers government regulations or mandates, regardless of how immense or distant that regime is:

Government at any level, other than at the individual level, is illegitimate … it makes more sense to support any individual action that comes closer to enforcing the NAP [i.e., the nonaggression principle] whether it is the president, governor, or mayor.

This is the logic behind the EU: the national governments are imposing tariffs, so we need the European Commission to ensure “free trade.” Indeed, the EU has long been sold as a profreedom institution, because it supposedly lowered trade barriers erected by more local government units. Of course, we can see where that led. The net effect of the EU has been the exact opposite of the expansion of freedom. Instead, the EU has given the world a giant bureaucracy that limits trade with the non-EU world and imposes countless regulations of its own.

The same logic could also be employed to call in the World Trade Organization to force down Trump’s tariffs. After all, if the US is raising taxes on trade, we need somebody to “enforce the NAP.” Why not strengthen the WTO so it can dictate tax rates to member states? The problem with this should be obvious: calling in some international body like the WTO to better “protect rights” is just asking for trouble. Americans would soon find themselves in a position similar to that of the British under the EU. Would surrendering more local prerogatives to an international group of politicians be a solution to high tariffs? This could potentially work in the short run, but experience has taught us that the potential for lost freedom in the longer term is enormous. 

  • 1. On this, Benjamin Constant writes: “It is clear that different portions of the same people, placed in circumstances, brought up in customs, living in places, which are all dissimilar, cannot be led to absolutely the same manners, usages, practices, and laws, without a coercion which would cost them more than it is worth.”

Mises Institute: The Property-Based Social Order Is Being Destroyed by Central Banks

The Mises Institute has the article The Property-Based Social Order Is Being Destroyed by Central Banks

Readers of the Mises Wire are no doubt familiar with the negative consequences of central banking and the inflationary capacity of fiat currency and how such a system drives malinvestment and leads to boom-bust cycles. Not only does the business cycle lead to the misallocation of resources from their natural ends of the structure of production, but it also drives resources into financialization, rather than the “real” economy. This financialization, which has been taking place since at least the First World War, has served, over time, to structurally undermine the morality of property in the eyes of the general public. As the increased popularity of socialism, at least in rhetorical terms, among the youth indicates this “evaporation” of property may reach a critical mass within the not-too-distant future.

The Social Effects of Financialization

In his book The Present Age, sociologist Robert Nisbet traces the origin of financialization to the First World War and the decision to finance the war via credit, rather than taxation. He argues that the other negative social effects of the war, combined with the flush of cash and credit into the system drastically altered American’s traditional propensity to save and instead to spend. These changed habits led to the “roaring twenties” where instead of acquiring wealth through hard work and thrift and a focus on producing goods and services, Americans turned to financial means of acquiring wealth. 

This began what Nisbet calls the “evaporation of property” where ownership of hard tangible goods has evolved into the “soft” ownership of highly liquid and mobile forms of property such as stocks. This concept of evaporating property originated in the work of Joseph Schumpeter, an economist and contemporary of Mises in Austria (though not a member of the Austrian school) who identified and explained this phenomenon in his classic work Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.1 Schumpeter criticizes the shareholder mechanism of ownership for separating legal ownership from those responsibilities and actions that are traditionally associated with it. He argues that the owners of publicly traded firms are comprised of three groups of people: the salaried executives and managers, the large shareholders, and the small shareholders, and that “no element of those three groups … takes the attitude” that is generally meant by the word property. The employees, he states, often do not identify with the shareholding interests, and the large shareholders, even if they behave how financial theory predicts, are “at one remove from both the functions and attitudes of an owner.” Schumpeter considers small shareholders to be the least tied to ownership, saying that they often care little and if anything are mobilized by others for “their nuisance value.” He goes on to say that in the end, small shareholders end up feeling ill used and “almost regularly drift into an attitude hostile to ‘their’ corporations, to big business in general and, particularly when things look bad, to the capitalist order as such.”

For Schumpeter, the heart of the problem is that “the capitalist process, by substituting a mere parcel of shares for the walls and machines of a factory, takes the life out of the idea of property” and that “this evaporation of what we may term the material substance of property—affects not only the attitude of the holders but also that of the workmen and the public in general. Dematerialized, defunctionalized and absentee ownership does not impress and call forth the moral allegiance as the vital form of property did.”

Easy Money vs. Private Property 

Nisbet laments that this highly liquid form of property leads to economic perversity where “more and more capitalism tends to ‘exalt the monetary unit’ over the type of property that theoretically alone gives the monetary unit its value.” Nisbet takes especial issue with slick operators who seem to believe “that by raiding a decently run corporation, artificially jacking up its price on the stock market through the use of high-yield credit, including junk bonds, they are in consequence improving the management of the corporation.” 

The sad fate of the once iconic Toys “R” Us is one such example. When Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy several years ago, some thirty thousand people lost their jobs. The surface argument is that the brick-and-mortar retailer simply couldn’t keep up with the new online world and was losing out to the Amazons and the Walmarts. However, when examined closer, the case can be made that the company’s doom was sealed when it was purchased by a consortium of private equity firms in the mid-2000s. Thanks to the abundance of credit facilitated by the Fed’s loose monetary policy the firms actually only fronted 20 percent of the buyout, with the rest being borrowed. After the acquisition, the firms then saddled Toys “R” Us with the debt used to purchase them in the first place, adding over $5 billion in debt to the $1.86 billion the company held before the deal. By 2007, 97 percent of the company’s operating profits were being consumed to pay interest expenses. The firms also charged the company hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and The Atlantic reports that “according to one estimate, the money KKR and Bain partners earned from those fees more than covered the firms’ losses in the deal.” Who knows how Toys “R” Us would have fared without being saddled with $5 billion in debt. Perhaps it would have had the flexibility to innovate, or perhaps it would have failed, but in the end it didn’t have a chance to find out.

Were Nisbet alive, he would not have been surprised by such an event in the slightest. Loose money leads to loose morals and loose people who see no problem in such a scheme that demonstrates very little actual economic value being produced. 

Rather than exercising the responsibilities typically associated with property and ownership, these private equity firms treated Toys “R” Us worse than a rented mule and in doing so created loads of anticapitalist sentiment. One can’t help but think of Bruce Springstein’s 2012 song “Death to My Hometown,” in which he attacks such firms by lamenting that even though no “shells ripped the evening sky” or “blood soaked the ground” and “no armies stormed the shores for which we’d die” “marauders raided in the night” and “just as sure as the hand of God they brought death to my hometown.” Springstein concludes with a warning to “be ready for when they come for they’ll be returning sure as the rising sun.”

A people that comes to view the capitalist class as rampaging Huns in suits who “ate the flesh of everything they’ve found” is not a people that will be living under a market system for much longer. And when one looks at what happened to Toys “R” Us and similar firms, how the stock market was booming in the midst of the covid lockdown disaster, or how, as Ryan McMaken recently pointed out, GDP is expected to go through the roof even though the true unemployment rate is dismal, it is not hard to understand why people have such hostile opinions of capitalism.

Similarly, all this financialization has made it much more difficult for people to preserve their wealth against inflation and to save and invest in the traditional manners. Instead, people are driven into the stock market. As Jörg Guido Hülsmann notes in his book The Ethics of Money Production, people “must invest their money into the financial markets, lest its purchasing power evaporate under their noses.” He goes on to note that while such a thing may be good for financial brokers, it is not good for the average citizen who is incentivized into debt due to chronic inflation, pushed into a state of financial dependency, and now at the mercy of the financial winds.

The GameStop saga is example of this idea in action. Flush with cash from government “stimulus,” numerous average joes have taken up day trading and pumped the price of a stock into the stratosphere that is in no way connected to reality. The first wave of “meme investors” soon learned that the financial system is not exactly friendly to their method, as the actions of brokers like Robinhood quickly demonstrated. In the long run the reality is that most day traders will lose money and when that happens there is little doubt that their small foray into “financial capitalism” will leave these small investors with the attitude that Schumpeter predicted: hostile to the company they supposedly own and to the capitalist system in general. 

Misplaced Hostility Toward the Marketplace

Hostility towards capitalism seems to be growing everywhere one looks. It is not surprising that envy fueled leftists despise capitalism, but on the political right more and more populists have taken to bashing capitalism and the “market fundamentalists” who are supposedly running the GOP. Yet, populist conservatives have so far seemingly failed to notice the way in which the Federal Reserve and our inflationary fiat currency have contributed to all of the social problems and ills that they are greatly concerned with. Perhaps such populists can be given a pass for not being familiar with Hülsmann’s work on the cultural consequences of fiat money, but what is perplexing is that midcentury authors who conservative populists are more familiar with, such as Robert Nisbet and Wilhelm Röpke, wrote at length about the scourge of inflation and its negative social consequences and yet the issue still raises nary a peep out of the likes of Tucker Carlson and Sohrab Ahmari.

While such a situation is distressing, those within the Austrian tradition should see an opportunity here to harness the populist energies that seem to be growing larger by the day and to reveal to the aggrieved masses that the true target of their wrath should be the state and central banking system. Had Bruce Springsteen had access to a sound economic education he would have been singing at Ron Paul rallies, rather than at those of Bernie Sanders. The task of ensuring the next Springstein is lambasting the Federal Reserve and not capitalism itself begins now.

1.All quotes from Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 3d ed. (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2008), pp. 141–42.

Mises Institute: Gun Laws and Decentralization: Lessons from “Constitutional Carry”

José Niño at the Mises Institute writes Gun Laws and Decentralization: Lessons from “Constitutional Carry”.

Few political movements can boast of success like the firearms movement in the United States. Often overlooked is how before the 1980s there was no concept of licensed, let alone unlicensed, concealed carry in the overwhelming majority of the country. The sole exception was Vermont, which through an idiosyncratic state supreme court decision in 1903 has had unlicensed carry for over a century. “Vermont Carry,” the concept of unlicensed concealed carry, would be the Holy Grail for Second Amendment advocates for up to a century.

In the intervening decades, in large part motivated by notable transgressions on the right to bear arms during the 1930s and 1960s, activists took to using gradualist methods in their efforts to relax gun control laws at the state level. Starting in the late 1970s, Georgia kicked off the modern licensed carry movement after it joined states like Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Washington in enacting some form of licensed concealed carry. Soon thereafter, states began adopting licensed carry one by one, and by the twenty-first century, most of the nation had some form of licensed concealed carry. 

At first, the idea of unlicensed carry seemed like a quixotic prospect only odd states like Vermont were capable of adopting. However, the dam broke after Alaska ended America’s century-long unlicensed carry dry spell by signing its own constitutional carry bill into law in 2003. An even more pronounced momentum shift took place in 2010 after then Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1108, Arizona’s constitutional carry bill. From there, a wave of states have followed suit in making constitutional carry the law of the land.

Constitutional carry’s success is not a coincidence. It reflects a concerted effort by many disaffected gun owners who realized the federal government was not responding to their demands to scale back infringements on gun ownership. Rather than engage in the pie-in-the-sky federal campaigns that the average conservative organization would generally be involved in throughout the post–World War II era, many gun owners shifted their political sights toward state legislatures.

Indeed, there is something to be said about Barack Obama’s occupancy of the White House serving as a lightning rod for gun owners at the state level. At the time, many gun owners were thoroughly spooked by Obama’s campaign promises to enact gun control legislation. Their fears became more pronounced when the Obama administration pushed for a far-reaching gun control package in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.

Although Obama’s gun control desires never came to pass, gun owners became sufficiently motivated to not only take action against his gun control attempt at the federal level but to shift their attention toward the state level. Several creative Second Amendment organizations picked up on the grassroots dissatisfaction of the Tea Party and leveraged that energy for state-level projects such as constitutional carry. By the time Obama left office in 2016, there were eleven states with constitutional carry as law.

Constitutional carry’s momentum maintained its course in the Trump era. Five states—New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Kentucky—passed constitutional carry legislation of their own when Donald Trump was in office, thus showing signs of a movement that has a life of its own and a willingness to press forward regardless of the partisan winds blowing in DC.

Presently, there are eighteen constitutional carry states, following Utah and Montana deciding to quickly pass said legislation in the opening weeks of the Biden administration. Furthermore, states such as Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas are seeking to jump on the legislative bandwagon. From the looks of it, the concept of lawful individuals carrying firearms without a license is not going away any time soon.

Undoubtedly, the level of polarization present in the US can be leveraged in a positive direction. Large swathes of red states are filled with “deplorables” who have no love lost for both Democrats and Republicans in DC. One way they could poke DC in the eye is by passing legislation such as constitutional carry.

Contrary to what the promoters of traditional politics say, political confrontation can yield positive results. When states start taking matters into their own hands and buck prevailing trends emanating from DC, Americans can carve out their own “freedom domains,” if you will, where they can enjoy particular freedoms other states and the federal government would generally deprive them of.

In turn, when enough states adopt niche policies like constitutional carry, lagging states and the federal government alike will get the message that they are out of touch with the policy wants of large portions of America. At the same time, America is witnessing an ever-expanding Second Amendment sanctuary movement, with similar actors using local means to push back against gun control. Dissatisfaction is high and people are beginning to express it in a concrete, political form. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and sufficient pressure from below could be the wake-up call federal lawmakers need in order to act on their constituents’ demands.

Pulling a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” likely won’t bring about any meaningful political change in a gridlocked Congress. Perhaps real political reforms will be the product of frequent visits to one’s respective state legislatures instead. Getting acquainted with state politics—something many politically active Americans have neglected to do in our federally obsessed political culture—is the first step in casting aside the ossified strategies of yesteryear.

Meaningful reforms will not come from DC but rather state legislatures and lower levels of government that are more prone to yield to grassroots pressure.

Mises Institute: Government’s Money Monopoly and the “Great Reset”

From the Mises Institute, Government’s Money Monopoly and the “Great Reset”

The unbacked paper money system is an economically and socially destructive system—with far-reaching and harmful economic and social consequences beyond what most people would imagine. Fiat money is inflationary; it benefits some at the expense of many others; it causes boom-and-bust cycles; it corrupts the morality of society; it will ultimately end in a major bust; and it leads to overindebtedness.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) estimates that global debt climbed to $277 trillion by the end of 2020, amounting to a staggering 365 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP). As the graph below shows, global debt versus GDP has risen in recent years, suggesting that the increase in debt has outpaced the rise in GDP. This buildup of excessive debt, the path to overindebtedness, results from an unbacked paper money system.

In close cooperation with commercial banks, the central banks artificially lower the market interest rate through credit expansion, which increases the money supply. Consumption increases and savings decline, while capital expenditures go up. Taken together, this means that the economy is living beyond its means. While the injection of new credit and money at artificially low interest rates causes an initial surge in economic activity, this boom will and must be followed by bust.

Learning from the Austrian Business Cycle Theory

The Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT) points to this with rigorous logic. The reason is that once the injection of new credit and money has run its course—after wages are raised, cost of capital lowered, etc.—market interest rates return to their original levels, that is the levels which prevailed before the issuance of credit and money out of thin air. Once market interest rates start to rise, the boom slackens and collapses.

Higher market interest rates prompt people to reduce consumption and increase savings from current income. In addition, new investment projects that are considered profitable in times of artificially suppressed market interest rates turn out to be unprofitable. Firms start to rein in spending, cut jobs, liquidate assets. Painful as it is for most people, this is the process through which the economy cleanses itself of overconsumption and malinvestment caused by the boom.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the debt burden on an economy, the higher its debt in relation to income, the more problematic it is when a recession hits. Generally speaking, a decrease in output worsens borrowers’ ability to service their debt. However, once debt has reached relatively high levels, a recession can cause debtors to default on their payment obligations. In fact, it can cause the debt pyramid to collapse, sending the economy into depression.

Critics of the ABCT may argue that the unbacked paper money system, despite its sky-high debt, did not collapse in the 2008–09 crisis, nor did it collapse in the politically dictated lockdown crisis of 2020–21. Doesn’t that suggest the ABCT got it wrong? The answer is no; the important point here is that when applying the ABCT to past or current real events, it is important to take “special conditions” into account appropriately.

Once that is done, it becomes evident that central banks have taken control of market interest rates in recent years. Market interest rates are no longer “freely” determined in the market, but effectively dictated by monetary authorities. Indeed, central banks can—and do—prevent market interest rates from rising, which means that they are actually disrupting the corrective force that could turn the boom into bust, keeping the boom going for longer.

This policy has consequences that should also be taken into account. When central banks successfully intervene in the credit market and fend off the bust, the misallocation of scarce resources continues and gets even worse—adding to the scale and scope of the inevitable crisis in the future. What more, the monetary policy of preventing a bust by any means allows anticapitalist forces to destroy what little is left of the free market system. And that is exactly what is happening around the world.

An Uncomfortable Truth: The State Feeds on Crises

The politically dictated lockdown crisis has slowed down economic activity in many countries around the world and in extreme cases brought it to a standstill. Recession, business failures, and mass unemployment are the results. In the meantime, the governments—which have caused the disaster in the first place—have “come to the rescue”: they are letting their central banks put ever-greater amounts of money in the bank accounts of consumers and producers.

In relying on this money flow, a growing number of people and business models become dependent on government handouts. It does not take much to realize that this whole process is clearly playing into the hands of those political quarters that want to grow the state even bigger, push back the remaining capitalist elements in the economic system, and establish a collectivist-socialist regime—that it operates the switches to a truly “socialist transformation.”

When consumers and businesspeople receive generous financial support from the government, resistance against a policy that destroys many firms and jobs is greatly reduced—compared to a situation where those who suffer from such government policies receive no compensation. In other words, by running the electronic printing presses, state power is greatly increased at the expense of civil liberties and freedom.

History shows that emergencies and crises strengthen the power of the state; and also that it is very difficult to ever take power away from the state once it has seized it. And the more powerful the state becomes, the more it will be used by resourceful special interest groups—such as the military-industrial complex, Big Banking, Big Tech—as the economic theory of so-called rent seeking would explain to us.

The Trouble with Oligarchic Democracy

This development is accelerated in democracies, because democracies develop into oligarchies, as the sociologist Robert Michels (1876–1936) argues. Why is that? In representative democracies, political parties are formed. These parties are organizations run by the most determined, power-hungry people. They become the “oligarchic party elite” and are in a position to set their own agendas, regardless of the will of the party base or party voters.

Various oligarchic party elite groups begin to work together, paving the way toward an “oligarchic democracy,” in which the powerful few rule over the many powerless. In other words: Michels argues that the idea of democracy is turned on its head. In fact, in an oligarchic democracy, it becomes possible for the political and corporate “elites” to effectively run the show, enforcing their favored political, economic, and social concept with joint forces.

Against this backdrop, the buzzwords “Great Transformation,” “Great Reset,” and “new world order” seem to be the brainchildren of today’s political and corporate elites, meant to replace what little is left of the free market system and install a so-called command economic system: While the institution of property is maintained in name, it is the central authority, the power elite, that determines what the owners of property may or may not do with their property.

In a command economic system, the oligarchic party elites would effectively dictate what is produced by whom, when, where, and at what cost, and who gets what and when from the production output; and it takes only a fairly small—and logically consistent—step to transform the command economic system into outright socialism—where the oligarchic party elites and their partners would effectively own the means of production. But socialism is a recipe for disaster.

We Must End the State’s Money Monopoly

The productivity of a command economy, let alone full-blown socialism, could not support, feed, clothe, and house a world population of currently around 7.8 billion people. In fact, a command economy or outright socialism would mean the death of millions, if not billions, of people. Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973) pointed this out as early as 1919: Socialism is impossible, it leads to chaos, impoverishment, and total loss of individual freedom.

And yet, collectivist-socialist ideologues and their supporters, politically weaponizing “climate change” and, most recently, the “coronavirus epidemic,” are pushing very hard to abolish the market system (or what little is left of it) altogether to impose a command economic system, or even a socialist regime, on mankind. Although they enjoy support by large numbers of people, that does not mean that socialism is inevitable, as Marxist-socialist thinkers wish to make their audience believe.

Mises understood that peaceful and productive cooperation among men at national and international levels requires private property and unimpeded division of labor, or what it boils down to: the free market system, or capitalism. He also pointed out that society lives and acts only in individuals, and that it is in the interest of every individual to stand up for the defense of the free market system. Mises noted in Socialism (1951):

society…was created by mankind. Whether society shall continue to evolve or whether it shall decay lies—in the sense in which causal determination of all events permits us to speak of freewill—in the hand of man. Whether Society is good or bad may be a matter of individual judgment; but whoever prefers life to death, happiness to suffering, well-being to misery, must accept society. And whoever desires that society should exist and develop must also accept, without limitation or reserve, private ownership in the means of production.

Against this backdrop, it should be clear that the unbacked paper money system is not only a cause of crises, it is also the central instrument for those political forces—namely the oligarchic party elites and their supporters—that want to overthrow the existing economic and social order and install a collectivist-socialist dictatorship. Because without the state being in a position to increase the money supply at will, people would sooner or later feel the true costs of the state’s machinations.

And once people understand the true costs of the politically orchestrated economic transformation to their own lives and the well-being of their families and communities, resistance would certainly ensue that has the potential to put an end to a political system that increasingly erodes individual freedoms and liberties. Ending the state money production monopoly and allowing a free market in money is perhaps the most effective line of defense against world tyranny.

Mises Institute: New Lockdowns and More Regulations Are Disastrous for US Jobs

Economist and fund manager Dr. Daniel Lacalle at the Mises Institute writes New Lockdowns and More Regulations Are Disastrous for US Jobs

United States jobless claims have picked up, since the elections and the second wave of coronavirus have slowed down the economic recovery. Uncertainty about tax increases and changes in labor laws, including an increase in the minimum wage, add to the fear of new lockdowns, as employers see the devastating effects of these lockdowns in European employment.

While the United States has been able to recover fast and reduce unemployment to 6.8 percent, the eurozone jobless rate has risen to 8.3 percent before we consider the large number of furloughed employees who remain idle. The second wave of coronavirus in Europe has seen new government-imposed lockdowns and the impact on the economy is already severe. Estimates for the fourth-quarter gross domestic product assume a double-dip recession and another increase in unemployment.

Misguided lockdowns have created a deep and long-lasting impact on the economy and a dramatic social crisis, proving again that the response to the pandemic should have been similar that of Asian countries, which have successfully preserved health and the economy.

Employers all over the United States fear that a Biden administration will impose lockdowns, following the example of some European countries and thus generating a new decline in the economy and a wave of bankruptcies and job losses. Instead of giving simple and effective protocols for business to endure the crisis, some governments, whose members are completely disconnected from the day-to-day problems of small businesses and employers, resort to the drastic and ineffective measure of lockdowns, because it gives more power to governments and because the large corporations do not feel the impact as much as small enterprises. Governments like the idea of lockdowns, because it gives the impression of taking drastic measures to control the pandemic when, in reality, lockdowns simply destroy the business fabric and have proven to be extremely ineffective at reducing the mortality or hospitalization rates. The concerns about a Biden-enforced nationwide lockdown are not exaggerated. Dr. Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus advisor to Joe Biden, said a nationwide lockdown of four to six weeks would help bring the virus under control in the US and revive the economy. I am sorry to say that experience has shown us that none of those two things will happen. Massive lockdowns did not help European countries control the virus, rather the opposite, and have destroyed the economy with long-lasting implications for jobs, bankruptcies, and wages. Meanwhile, countries that have not implemented lockdowns and have provided simple and effective protocols have achieved better results in health and the economy.

Many citizens in the United States ask themselves if the country will recover its record level of employment and its low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent seen in March 2020, before the pandemic. Even if the United States avoids government-imposed lockdowns, which would delay the job recovery for at least another eighteen months, there is grave concern about the likelihood of more regulation, union control, and higher taxes that will make it more expensive to hire personnel and more burdensome both in terms of hiring as well as reducing payroll.

The United States has been an example of job creation during the growth period but, more importantly, rapid job recovery in a complex crisis like the covid-19 one. Adding rigidity to the labor market and increasing taxes will prove disastrous for small and newly created business, which are the largest job creators in the United States.

It is as simple as this. The United States cannot have the wage growth and low unemployment it deserves by copying the labor market legislation of Greece, Spain, or France, countries with extremely rigid job markets and high union intervention…and historically high unemployment.

The European Union used to have the same unemployment rate as the United States. Massive disincentives, a misguided excess of regulation, and heavy taxes have created a divergence by which unemployment in Europe stands at almost twice the rate as in the United States.

The fallacy of “protecting workers” with high taxes to employers and heavy intervention in the labor market only protects governments. Unemployment is higher, wage growth is weaker, and the flexibility loss means lower opportunities for youth employment. Youth unemployment in the eurozone and European Union is simply unacceptably high even in growth periods, and it is due to the barriers to employment created through aggressive intervention in the job market and government control. Incentives to hire are poor while disincentives to work are high.

If anything has been proven by the past two decades, it is that more government, higher taxes, and union intervention do not protect workers, they perpetuate unemployment and reduce wage growth and opportunities.

Lockdowns added to higher taxes and labor rigidity would likely prove very negative for the United States recovery. You cannot recover if you impose the burdens that some European countries have imposed. Labor market interventionism does not protect workers, it empowers politicians.

Mises Institute: Joe Biden Wants a Huge New Tax on Gun Owners

This article from the Mises Institute discusses the gun control policies from Joe Biden’s Presidential platform, including the buyback program and alternative $200/firearm tax and registration in Joe Biden Wants a Huge New Tax on Gun Owners

Joe Biden’s gun policy platform offers support for almost all conceivable forms of government restrictions on the Second Amendment. This includes bans and restrictions on sales, expansion of registration and background checks, expansion of buyback programs and gun-grabbing statutes, and the closing of all sorts of “loopholes.”1

While we are only at the policy platform stage, where proposals are grandiose and imprecise, Biden’s legislative agenda will clearly be anti–Second Amendment and not a program to reduce crime and violence. First, he wants to stop the “gun violence epidemic” with restriction on rifles when it is handgun shootings, not rifles, that are a problem and one that is mostly confined to big cities controlled by leftists. Second, he wants to go after “assault weapons” and “weapons of war” when he should know that rifles like the AK and AR “sporters” are not military-grade fully automatic weapons. Third, he would like to hold gun manufacturers civilly liable for criminal acts committed with guns, a move which would shut down the industry, the true goal.

In support of the government’s buyback program, i.e., the carrot, Biden has added a gun tax for anyone who wishes to keep their rifles and high-capacity magazines. If you want to avoid the buyback and keep your guns and high-capacity (greater than ten rounds) magazine, you would have to register both under the National Firearms Act, which triggers a $200 tax for each rifle and magazine—the stick. The stick behind the stick is a penalty of up to ten years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. Registration involves filling out a thirteen-page registration form and providing fingerprints and a photograph of yourself.This is certainly bad enough for gun owners and Americans in general, but if history is a teacher the end results could be much worse, potentially catastrophic.

Joe Biden was sold to the American voter in 2020 as a moderate of the Democrat Party.  He was not a conservative, but neither was he an AOC progressive or a Sanders socialist. His image as a white moderate male was also used to help sell the voters on Barack Obama.

There was also a time when Biden was actually a pragmatist on Second Amendment rights. As the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, he helped pass the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act, which overturned decades of anti-gun court rulings and regulations to restore most gun owner rights and reexpanded commerce by eliminating restrictions on how and where guns could be sold. The legislation’s passage helped lay the foundation of the modern gun rights movement. According to Biden the pragmatist circa 1985:

During my 12.5 years as a Member of this body, I have never believed that additional gun control or Federal registration of guns would reduce crime. I am convinced that a criminal who wants a firearm can get one through illegal, nontraceable, unregistered sources, with or without gun control. In my opinion a national register or ban of handguns would be impossible to carry out and may not result in reductions in crime.2

Despite his recognition of the futility of using gun control to reduce crime and gun violence, the “pragmatist” turned to the dark side when it became politically expedient to do so. In 1993 he helped pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which required background checks through a new national checking system (the National Instant Criminal Background Check System [NICS]). The next year he helped obtain a ten-year ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine sales.

As vice president, he was President Obama’s point man in developing legislative proposals and executive orders to shore up gun control at the national level, and yet even that administration admitted that gun control is almost a futile endeavor and that their efforts amounted to little more than feel-good measures.

While no law or set of laws will end gun violence, it is clear that the American people want action. If even one child’s life can be saved, then we need to act. Now is the time to do the right thing for our children, our communities, and the country we love.3

Indeed, with more than a century of experience we know that gun control does not reduce crime but rather increases it, as John Lott has demonstrated. According to Lott’s evidence and that of independent researchers, no form of gun control has positive effects and most forms have negative effects on crime, murder, and mass shootings. Indeed, the most noteworthy policies that improve these problems are the elimination of gun-free zones and the expansion of concealed carry laws.4

With respect to Biden’s proposed gun tax, what are the expected outcomes? The tax is certainly not designed to raise revenue, as it would raise little and entail a good deal of bureaucratic spending. It would no doubt encourage gun buybacks and reduce gun ownership at the margin, but to what end? It would mostly impact responsible gun owners economically impacted by the lockdowns and unemployment. These are the gun owners who reduce crime rates because of the deterrence factor they provide. The gun tax would also encourage the diversion of guns and high-capacity magazines to the black market.

Most importantly, would the gun tax reduce access to guns and in turn reduce crime and violence? Biden has already admitted that the answer is no: “a criminal who wants a firearm can get one through illegal, nontraceable, unregistered sources, with or without gun control.” Efforts to reduce gun violence through policies of red tape and taxes are doomed to fail and only lead to further inroads of enhanced policies of restrictionism and even outright prohibition.

For example, in order to address the real and imagined problem of narcotics addiction, which was already in decline at the end of the nineteenth century, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed in 1914 to regulate and tax the production, importation, and distribution of opiates and cocaine products.

However, the courts interpreted the legislation to mean that doctors could prescribe these drugs in the course of normal treatment, as a dental anesthetic or for short-term pain management, for example, but not as a treatment for addiction. This turned regulation into prohibition and quickly turned the imaginary crimes of blacks and Asians into very real crimes all across the country. Desperate addicts were willing to pay high prices and commit crimes to satisfy their addictions, and smugglers and drug dealers quickly developed a black market.

Similar negative consequences resulted from the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which started as a tax to reduce imagined crimes by minorities, i.e., Reefer Madness, only to quickly devolve into an outright prohibition. Fortunately, we as a people have recognized this mistake and are moving to legalize cannabis and hemp, i.e., marijuana, in a state-by-state process that works in the face of federal and international law.

As horrific and far-reaching as the consequences of the war on drugs have been, the consequences of “commonsense” gun control laws are potentially much greater in the long run. In a very important contribution, Stephen Holbrook demonstrates that the Nazis used gun registration information instituted and collected by the Weimar Regime to rapidly disarm the Jews and other political adversaries. This in turn greatly facilitated the Holocaust.5 A disarmed American population would similarly be much more vulnerable to political repression.

But putting this possibility aside, Biden’s gun control proposals, including the gun tax, offer no possibility of improved security, while most of them will make us less secure and more prone to crime and violence. Most importantly, they are all an affront and threat to our liberty as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

Mises Institute: Why Governments Hate Decentralization and “Local Control”

Ryan McMaken at the Mises Institute talks about Why Governments Hate Decentralization and “Local Control”. No one with power wants to have to exercise that power through intermediaries; they want direct control.

In recent decades, many have claimed that advances in communications and transportation would eliminate the different political, economic, and cultural characteristics peculiar to residents of different regions within the United States. It is true the cultural difference between a rural mechanic and an urban barista is smaller today than was the case in 1900. Yet recent national elections suggest that geography is still an important factor in understanding the many differences the prevail across different regions within the US. Urban centers, suburban neighborhoods, and rural towns still are characterized by certain cultural, religious, and economic interests that are hardly uniform across the landscape.

In a country as large as the United States, of course, this has long been a reality of American life. But even in far smaller countries, such as the larger states of Europe, the problem of creating a national regime designed to rule over a large diverse population has long preoccupied political theorists. At the same time, the problem of limiting this state power has especially been of interest to proponents of “classical” liberalism—including its modern variant, “libertarianism”—who are concerned with protecting human rights and property rights from the grasping power of political regimes.

The de facto “answer,” to the this problem, unfortunately, has been to empower national states at the expense of local self-determination and institutions which had long provided barriers between individual persons and powerful national states. Some liberals, such as John Stuart Mill, have even endorsed this, thinking that mass democracy and national legislatures could be employed to protect the rights of regional minorities.

But not all liberals have agreed, and some have understood that decentralization and the maintenance of local institutions and local power centers can offer a critical obstacle to state power.

The Growth of the State and the Decline of Local Powers

Among the best observers and critics of this phenomenon are the great French liberals of the nineteenth century, who watched this process of centralization unfold during the rise of absolutism under the Bourbon monarchy and during the revolution.1

Many of these liberals—Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Constant in particular—understood how historical local autonomy in cities and regions throughout France had offered resistance to these efforts to centralize and consolidate the French state’s power.

Alexis de Tocqueville explains the historical context in Democracy in America:

During the aristocratic ages which preceded the present time, the sovereigns of Europe had been deprived of, or had relinquished, many of the rights inherent in their power. Not a hundred years ago, amongst the greater part of European nations, numerous private persons and corporations were sufficiently independent to administer justice, to raise and maintain troops, to levy taxes, and frequently even to make or interpret the law.

These “secondary powers” provided numerous centers of political power beyond the reach and control of the centralized powers held by the French state. But by the late eighteenth century, they were rapidly disappearing:

At the same period a great number of secondary powers existed in Europe, which represented local interests and administered local affairs. Most of these local authorities have already disappeared; all are speedily tending to disappear, or to fall into the most complete dependence. From one end of Europe to the other the privileges of the nobility, the liberties of cities, and the powers of provincial bodies, are either destroyed or upon the verge of destruction.

This, Tocqueville understood, was no mere accident and did not occur without the approval and encouragement of national sovereigns. Although these trends were accelerated in France by the Revolution, this was not limited to France, and there were larger ideological and sociological trends at work:

The State has everywhere resumed to itself alone these natural attributes of sovereign power; in all matters of government the State tolerates no intermediate agent between itself and the people, and in general business it directs the people by its own immediate influence.

Naturally, powerful states are not enthusiastic about having to work through intermediaries when the central state could instead exercise direct power through its bureaucracy and by employing a centrally controlled machinery of coercion. Thus, if states can dispense with the inconveniences of “local sovereignty” this enables the sovereign power to exercise its own power all the more completely.

The Power of Local Allegiance and Local Customs

When states are dominated by any single political center, other centers of social and economic life often arise in opposition. This is because human society is by nature quite diverse in itself, and especially so across different regions and cities. Different economic realities, different religions, and different demographics (among other factors) tend to produce a wide range of diverse views and interests. Over time, these habits and interests supported in a particular time and place begin form into local “traditions” of various sorts.

Benjamin Constant, a leading French liberal of the nineteenth century, understood these differences could serve as effective barriers to centralized state power. Or, as noted by historian Ralph Raico: “Constant appreciated the importance of voluntary traditions, those generated by the free activity of society itself….Constant emphasized the value of these old ways in the struggle against state power.”

In his book Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments, Constant complains that many liberals of his time, having been influenced by Montesquieu, embraced the ideal of uniformity in laws and political institutions.

This, Constant warns, is a mistake and tends to create more powerful centralized states, which then proceed to violate the very rights that Montesquieu thought could be preserved through uniformity.

But political uniformity can lead down very dangerous paths, Constant insists, concluding, “It is by sacrificing everything to exaggerated ideas of uniformity that large States have become a scourge for humanity.” This is because large politically uniform states can only reach this level of uniformity by employing the state’s coercive power to force uniformity on the people. The people do not give up their local traditions and institutions easily and therefore, Constant continues,

It is clear that different portions of the same people, placed in circumstances, brought up in customs, living in places, which are all dissimilar, cannot be led to absolutely the same manners, usages, practices, and laws, without a coercion which would cost them more than it is worth.

This may not be “worth it” to the people, but it appears to be worth it to the regime. Thus, states over the past several centuries have expended immense amounts of time and treasure to break down local resistance, impose national languages, and homogenize national institutions. When this process is successful, a nation’s laws end up reflecting the preferences and concerns of those from the dominant region or population at the expense of everyone else. When it comes to these large centralized states, Constant writes:

one must not underestimate their multiple and terrible drawbacks. Their size requires an activism and force at the heart of government which is difficult to contain and degenerates into despotism. The laws come from a point so far from those to whom they are supposed to apply that the inevitable effect of such distance is serious and frequent error. Local injustices never reach the heart of government. Placed in the capital, it takes the views of its surrounding area or at the very most of its place of residence for those of the whole State. A local or passing circumstance thus becomes the reason for a general law, and the inhabitants of the most distant provinces are suddenly surprised by unexpected innovations, unmerited severity, vexatious regulations, undermining the basis of all their calculations, and all the safeguards of their interests, because two hundred leagues away men who are total strangers to them had some inkling of agitation, divined certain needs, or perceived certain dangers.

For Constant, the diversity among communities ought not be seen a problem to solve, but rather as a bulwark against state power. Moreover, it is not enough to speak only of individual freedoms and prerogatives when discussing the limits of state power. Rather, it is important to actively encourage local institutional independence as well:

Local interests and memories contain a principle of resistance which government allows only with regret and which it is keen to uproot. It makes even shorter work of individuals. It rolls its immense mass effortlessly over them, as over sand.

Ultimately, this local institutional strength is key because for Constant state power can be successfully limited when it is possible to “skillfully combine institutions and place within them certain counterweights against the vices and weaknesses of men.”

Unfortunately, it appears even the last few institutional vestiges of localism are under attack from the forces of political centralization. Whether it is attacks on Brexit in Europe, or denunciations of the electoral college in the United States, even limited and weak appeals to local control and self-determination are met with the utmost contempt from countless pundits and intellectuals. Two centuries after Tocqueville and Constant, regimes still recognize decentralization as a threat. Those who seek to limit state power should take the hint.

Mises Institute: Talk of “Unity” Is Both Hypocritical and Delusional

Professor Gary Galles at the Mises Institute says political Talk of “Unity” Is Both Hypocritical and Delusional

In Joe Biden’s address after being declared president-elect by news organizations, he promised to be a leader who “seeks not to divide but to unify.” Making that assertion after the campaigns we have seen, not to mention the light-years-apart treatment of the candidates, while Donald Trump is still adamantly disputing the election because of alleged Democrat malfeasance is, at a minimum, ironic. And it would be the height of hypocrisy if only a few of Trump’s claims of cheating are true. But we need to go further and recognize that even the possibility of Joe Biden uniting us is a delusion.

Agreement on the specific ends we want to achieve is unattainable because our desires are mutually inconsistent. Our agreement is very limited on even very broadly defined issues, and once we look further than vague, aspirational language and feel-good generalities, Americans disagree on virtually everything.

All of us want to be fed, clothed, housed, educated, etc. We agree in that sense. But we disagree about virtually every aspect of who, what, when, where, why, and how. We want different types and amounts, in different ways, at different times and places, and for different people. We are vastly different in the tradeoffs we are willing to make among our desires, not to mention who we think should pay our bills. Once we consider any of the myriad actual choices faced, the fact of scarcity necessitates that our specific ends conflict, rather than align.

Consider a mundane example played out daily in our homes—breakfast. Does everyone in your family agree on “the most important meal of the day”? Does everyone even eat breakfast? Does each member have coffee, a cold caffeine drink, or neither? Juice? What kind? Are all agreed on when, where, what, or how much to eat? Do we agree on who should pay for breakfast, cook it, and clean up after it? Do we agree on the “dress code” that should apply, either at breakfast or afterward?

Diverse individuals have diverse preferences. Multiplying this single example by the uncountable decisions that must be reached in society every day makes our fundamental disunity clear. And we are no more unified when we get to public policy. We are not in agreement about people’s rights and government powers that some view as essential but others view as unforgivable. The same is true of many foreign policy choices. We cannot be unified as “one nation under God” when some vehemently reject any reference to God. We cannot be unified about abortion when some view it as murder and others consider it sacred. Policies that take from some to give to others also inherently create disagreement from those whose pockets are involuntarily picked. Reducing what we take from some, entailing giving less to others than they wish, also triggers disagreement. So long as government dictates such choices, political unity is unattainable.

In fact, politics as currently practiced eviscerates the one thing Americans could agree about. This reflects the far-too-little-recognized fact that we have greater agreement on what all of us want to avoid than on what all of us want. None of us wants what John Locke called our “lives, liberties, and estates” violated. That is, each of us wants rights and property defended against invasion. Respecting all of our property rights reduces the risk from predation for each of us. But creating added rights and privileges for some at the expense of others’ equal rights and privileges makes government the most dangerous predator, even when who is selected to do so is determined by majority vote.

Each of us would like the freedom to peacefully pursue our own goals. As Lord Acton put it, “liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition,” because freedom to choose for ourselves is always the primary means to our ultimate ends. That is why the traditional functions of government are to protect us from abuse by our neighbors and foreign powers, while its greatest threat is supposed protectors becoming predators against citizens. That is why Acton recognized that liberty requires “the limitation of the public authority.” But we are incredibly far from agreement on that today.

Well-established property rights and the voluntary market arrangements they enable let individuals decide for themselves, limiting each of us to persuasion rather than coercion. Except in the very unusual case where we must all make the same choice, this allows us to better match our choices to our preferences and circumstances. And unlike minority votes in elections, every dollar “vote” matters.

In fact, we should recognize that markets are our primary means to transform our disagreements into mutually beneficial cooperation, while restrictions on markets hobble that essential function.

Say I offer you a widget for sale at $10 and you say yes. That does not mean we agree on its value. We disagreed. I valued it at less than $10 worth of other goods and services, or I wouldn’t have sold it for that. You must have valued it more than $10, or you wouldn’t have bought it for that. Importantly, however, we have transformed our disagreement on values into an exchange that gives both of us benefits we consider to be worth more than the costs.

In contrast, talk of political unity is primarily rhetorical cover for those who are in power to coerce those who disagree with them. They benefit themselves at others’ expense, taking others’ resources and making them acquiesce in what they object to. And unlike markets, in which greater disagreements about value create greater net benefits from voluntary arrangements, “unifying” political initiatives are just ways to control who will be forced to do what for others, driving Americans apart while hamstringing cooperative arrangements and squandering the wealth they would have created.

Grand invocations that “I will unify us” are actually shorthand for “We disagree about many things, but those in this group are unified against others’ preferences, and we mean to get our way, regardless of their well-being and desire,” which is made clear by the demonization of anyone who doesn’t support the supposed “unity” position as divisive. That kind of unity is tyranny. Strengthening our union actually runs along a different path than the unity of 50 percent plus one, unified against the interests of others. It is uniting in a common commitment to honoring one another’s rights and the liberty this makes possible for all of us. Without unity in that, we can never achieve the kind of unity that is actually desirable and achievable. The alternative is the prospect of more of what we have experienced of late, which resembles what Thomas Hobbes called “a war of all against all.” But if we are united only by the ongoing fight to win that war against other Americans, we are selling out the birthright we have from our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Mises Institute: On Foreign Policy, Trump Is Still the Lesser Evil

From the Mises Institute, On Foreign Policy, Trump Is Still the Lesser Evil

Covid-19 has occupied nearly all media attention, but foreign policy remains an important topic for many Americans who are exhausted by the prevailing order of never-ending wars. Lost in the usual cacophony of politics in the Trump era—which has been marked by outrage politics and a lack of introspection in discourse—are any in-depth discussions about making changes to America’s foreign policy quagmire. For some people who became disenchanted with the nation-building adventures of the Bush and Obama eras, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 presented a glint of hope.

Although he is no dyed-in-the-wool noninterventionist, Trump questioned a number of the shibboleths of the contemporary foreign world order that places America as the unquestioned savior of the world. Some members of the foreign policy blob (or the Blob) were so taken aback by Trump’s criticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the campaign trail that some feared he would have the US completely leave the military alliance. If only!

History has repeatedly shown, however, that what is said on the campaign trail does not exactly translate into tangible results. Although Trump was able to get NATO member countries such as Germany to pull more of their weight by increasing military spending to comply with NATO standards, NATO remains intact and is still being used to counter the alleged Russian Bear. The fact remains that NATO is a dinosaur of the bygone Cold War era and serves no real national interests in the present.

Nonetheless, Trump’s conversation about having European countries spend more on defense is somewhat encouraging, inasmuch as it makes the idea of countries with an American military presence assuming their defense functions slightly more palpable. Ideally, this would occur outside the NATO framework, as countries start providing for their own defense while America scales back its military presence in said countries and focuses more on its domestic affairs. Alas, we don’t operate in such circumstances.

It is amusing how foreign policy elites’ feathers continue to be ruffled by an administration that hasn’t done much to scale back the military-industrial complex (despite a lot of negative talk directed toward it from the president himself) nor to reduce America’s global footprint abroad. Take, for example, former vice president Dick Cheney. The former member of the Bush brain trust expressed his dismay with President Donald Trump’s supposedly “transactional” foreign policy of weighing the costs and benefits of a number of alliances and partnerships the US has made with other countries over the years. Yes, a transactional foreign policy is not ideal, but it’s a marginal improvement over the missionary role America has taken during the last century. A transactional foreign policy actually takes into consideration that there are actual costs—human and financial—when projecting power abroad.

Many on the mainstream right correctly observe that there are no free lunches in matters of domestic economics. But when foreign policy comes up similar logic escapes them. With over eight hundred bases across the globe and a military budget larger than the next ten highest-spending militaries combined, the US is clearly putting too much of an emphasis on policing the world, when there are plenty of countries that are willing and capable of defending themselves if given the chance. Plus, the US has many domestic problems—from economic uncertainty to social tension—that it will need to sort out in the next few decades.

Most of the liberal and conservative establishment is trapped in outdated twentieth-century notions of foreign policy strategy and is not aware of notable geopolitical realignments taking place across the globe. US policymakers will have to live with the fact that the US cannot police every corner of the world. Additionally, should the US government get overzealous, there will be countries ready to resist American efforts to expand its influence and make potential interventions costly.

The talk about an “America First” foreign policy has been refreshing, but the U.S. has yet to commit to a coherent withdrawal policy. You either have the likes of Liz Cheney leading a bipartisan coalition in the US House to roadblock any withdrawal efforts, or even worse, when the administration announces some form of troop reduction, the generals remain quiet or say that the withdrawal must be “conditions based.” All these roadblocks make one wonder who really calls the shots on foreign policy. With how radically the US state has transformed over the last century, the straightforward policymaking guide that the Constitution originally laid out looks more and more like a dead letter. Unelected bureaucrats and foreign policy officials seem to be the ones actually running the show while presidents function as mere placeholders.

On a more positive note, the Trump administration has made some solid nominations for the positions of ambassador to Afghanistan and ambassador to Germany. William Ruger (the nominee for the Afghanistan ambassadorship) and Douglas Macgregor (the nominee for the German ambassadorship) are both critics of the US government’s perpetual war strategy and overreliance on a militarized foreign policy. As evidence of how dangerous their views are to the foreign policy establishment, both nominees have received stiff opposition from liberal interventionist to neoconservative circles—a solid sign that they’re good choices, but also an indicator that their nominations will likely be torpedoed.

If you think change will come about by getting rid of Trump, think again. Trump’s opposition is simply nothing to write home about. A Biden-Harris administration would do very little to the warfare state. We shouldn’t be fooled by any clever marketing that Trump’s rivals put forward. They’re not a saner, more level-headed alternative to the supposedly erratic Trump. As Ryan McMaken makes clear, the Democratic duo will continue operating within the same parameter of never-ending wars and not fundamentally reorient foreign policy toward restraint. Defense contractors can be confident that business will go on as usual. This is the tragedy of modern-day politics, which is dominated by a uniparty that broadly agrees on foreign policy questions.

Marginal changes in personnel and political leadership are always welcome, but they ignore a fundamental precondition for any meaningful change in policy—a shift in political ideas; namely, a rejection of the progressive liberal ethos of American foreign policy, which international relations scholar Kevin Doremus believes has the objective of “providing global security, global capitalism, democracy, and peace.”

The irony of this foreign policy outlook is that it ignores how liberalism came about in the first place. It was not brought about by putting GIs on the ground or through subversive forms of soft power, such as color revolutions, but rather emerged in the West through organic processes such as decentralization and jurisdictional competition. While certain countries can embrace Western institutions and reap great success, Doremus observed that the “combination of universal liberal values with the unmatched US military power leads to advocates ignoring the historical and cultural contexts of other countries” and make them believe that the US government can poke and prod countries into becoming facsimiles of America and other Western liberal democracies.

Like all forms of intervention, unintended consequences are bound to occur. They can come in the form of blowback or the development of balancing coalitions such as the emerging China-Iran-Russia axis, which has surfaced in response to perceived overreach by hegemonic states such as the US. The rise of illiberalism on the international stage is largely the product of a US government full of imperial hubris that doesn’t take into account cultural differences among polities and whose first instinct is to browbeat countries that don’t conform to its agenda.

The power of ideas cannot be overstated in the struggle to chart a new path for foreign policy. As Ludwig von Mises explained in Epistemological Problems of Economics, “No one can escape the influence of a prevailing ideology.” The same dynamic is in play with regard to foreign policy. Unless there’s a massive shift in consciousness in public opinion both domestically and abroad that recognizes how social engineering does not work, the ruling class will constantly be promoting regime change endeavors and other militaristic adventures with little to no pushback.

Mises Institute: America at the Point of No Return (Book Review)

The Mises Institute has published a book review of Michael Anton’s The Stakes: American at the Point of No Return. Some people could learn a bit about their country just from reading the review.

…In one of the best sections of the book, Anton sets forward his understanding of the Constitution. He says, “Our founders sought to establish the weakest possible federal government capable of performing its essential functions, for three fundamental and intertwined reasons. First, government is inherently dangerous, so the less power it has, the better. Second, the states—being closer to the people and more responsive to regional differences and needs—are better equipped to handle most matters than a far-off centralized administration. Third, the states were prior to the federal government; the people, through their states, created the latter to serve them, not the other way around.”

Anton continues: “According to the parchment [the Constitution], the federal government is supposed to field and fund an army and navy, protect the borders, make treaties, regulate foreign trade and interstate commerce, maintain a sound common currency…and that’s about it. But if you haven’t noticed, there is almost nothing today that the federal government doesn’t do—or try to. The fact that it fails embarrassingly at most of the tasks it sets itself never circumscribes its ambitions, which seem to multiply by the year.”

Again sounding like a supporter of the free market, Anton says about the federal budget: “That leaves about a trillion for means-tested welfare—which, like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, are not constitutionally authorized; they are also of dubious and uneven effectiveness at best.”

Anton notes that the founders believed that the American Revolution was grounded in universal truths, “but they did not expect their declaration to revolutionize the world—nor were they under any illusion that it, or they, had the power to do so….America is—in the words of John Quincy Adams—‘the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all’ but also ‘the champion and vindicator only of her own.’”

Those who wish to restore these principles face a challenge of unprecedented severity. Anton argues that an elite based in certain blue states disdains ordinary Americans. “The core message of the meta-Narrative is that America is fundamentally and inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic, and so on. The flaws and sins of America derive directly from those of its founding stock, who are natural predators, inherently racist, and malevolent.”

Elite policy is at its worst in California, now under the near-total domination of the left wing of the Democratic Party. “In modern California, hypocrisy and double-standardism aren’t merely part of the business climate; they’re endemic to the whole society….Sam Francis dubbed this system ‘anarcho-tyranny’: complete freedom—even exemption from the gravest laws—for the favored, maximum vindictive enforcement against the pettiest infractions on the disfavored.” Anton fears that if President Trump isn’t reelected, the Democrats will seek actively to suppress whomever in the red states challenges them, and they will prove very difficult to dislodge from power.

Who are the ordinary Americans the elite disdains, and who are the elite? The ordinary Americans are those whom Hillary Clinton called “deplorables,” i.e., white males who value their family, their religion, and their property, including their guns. “Funny thing, too: a core tenet of modern liberalism is supposed to be the sanctity of ‘one man, one vote.’ Except, you know, not really. The barely concealed presupposition of denouncing Republicans as ‘racists’ simply because whites vote for them is that all votes are not created equal. Votes of color are morally superior to white votes, which are inherently tainted. Which is why the left holds any election won by a Republican to be morally if not (yet) politically illegitimate.”

The elite consists at its core of wealthy financiers and business interests allied with government. It is buttressed by professionals who have attended top universities, especially those of the Ivy League. In a way that readers of Hunter Lewis on “crony capitalism” will recognize, Anton writes: “So-called ‘public-private cooperation’ will increase. This benign-sounding phrase—who could object to ‘cooperation,’ to government and business ‘solving problems together’? —masks a darker reality. What it really describes is the use of state power to serve private ends, at private direction. Hence foreign policy…will be further reoriented around securing trade, tax, and labor ‘migration’ patterns and paradigms that benefit finance and big business.”

If elite dominance continues, Anton predicts that those of us who dissent will be rigidly restricted. “Free speech as we have known it—as our founders insisted was the bedrock of political rights, without which self-government is impossible—will not survive coming leftist rule. The playbook is already being expanded to include banking and credit. Getting on the wrong side of elite-woke opinion is increasingly to find oneself locked out of the financial system: no bank account, no credit card, no ability to get a loan or pay a mortgage. Pay cash? The move to a ‘cashless society’…will obviate that option right quick.”

Anton cites an especially chilling instance of the policy of suppression. “A new regulation in the United Kingdom—which we must assume will be proposed here sooner or later—would allow Britain’s National Health Service to deny non-emergency care to those deemed ‘racist, sexist, or homophobic.’ Government bureaucrats, naturally, will be the ones doing the deeming.” Small wonder that Anton has had enough…

Mises Institute: Rand Paul Is Right about the Nazis and Socialism

Rand Paul recently pointed out that the Nazis were socialists in a book released last year. I mean, it’s in the name (National Socialists – Nationalsozialist), but then they’d be leftists, right? Some have taken Rand Paul to task for pointing this out. In this article from Mises Institute, David Gordon says Rand Paul Is Right about the Nazis and Socialism.

In “No, the Nazis Were Not Socialists,” which appeared online in Jacobin, the philosopher Scott Sehon makes a surprising claim. In the course of criticizing some remarks by Senator Rand Paul, Sehon says,

Paul seems to quote the mid-century economist Ludwig von Mises:

Under national socialism there was, as Mises put it, “a superficial system of private ownership…[sic] but the Nazis exerted unlimited, central control of all economic decisions.” With profit and production dictated by the state, industry worked the same as if the government had confiscated all the means of production, making economic prediction and calculation impossible.…

It turns out that Paul’s most clear assertion about Nazi control of the economy was, apparently, just something that the senator made up and falsely attributed to Ludwig von Mises. (blockquote ellipses and brackets in Sehon)

Had Sehon looked into Mises’s views more carefully, he would have found that Mises did indeed believe that Nazism was a form of socialism, marked by state direction of the economy rather than collective ownership. In Omnipotent Government (p. 56), Mises says,

The German and the Russian systems of socialism have in common the fact that the government has full control of the means of production. It decides what shall be produced and how. It allots to each individual a share of consumer’s goods for his consumption….The German pattern differs from the Russian one in that it (seemingly and nominally) maintains private ownership of the means of production and keeps the appearance of ordinary prices, wages, and markets. There are, however, no longer entrepreneurs but only shop managers (Betriebsführer)….The government, not the consumers, directs production. This is socialism in the outward guise of capitalism. Some labels of capitalistic market economy are retained but they mean something entirely different from what they mean in a genuine market economy.

Sehon says that this view is false and cites an article I have not yet been able to gain access to that argues that business under the Nazis retained a large degree of autonomy. But in his well-received book The Wages of Destruction (2007), the historian Adam Tooze says this: “The German economy, like any modern economy, could not do without imports of food and raw materials. To pay for these it needed to export. And if this flow of goods was obstructed by protectionism and beggar-my-neighbour devaluations, this left Germany no option but to resort to ever greater state control of imports and exports, which in turn necessitated a range of other interventions” (p. 113). This is exactly Mises’s point. Interventionist measures in the free market such as price control fail to achieve their purpose. This leads the government to add more interventionist measures in an effort to remedy the situation, and continuing this process can quickly lead to socialism.

This is what happened under the Nazis. Businesses that were reluctant to follow the plans of the new order had to be forced into line. One law allowed the government to impose compulsory cartels. By 1936, the Four Year Plan, headed by Hermann Goering, had changed the nature of the German economy. “On 18 October [1936] Goering was given Hitler’s formal authorization as general plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan. On the following days he presented decrees empowering him to take responsibility for virtually every aspect of economic policy, including control of the business media” (Tooze 2007, pp. 223–24).

Sehon says that there were socialists in the Nazi party, principally Gregor Strasser and his brother Otto, but that their influence ended when Hitler purged this wing of the party in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. (By the way, Otto was more of a socialist than his brother Gregor, and the latter repudiated his brother’s views as too radical.) This is not entirely accurate. What it ignores is that Josef Goebbels, the influential minister of propaganda, held strongly socialist views despite his personal enmity for Strasser.

According to George Watson,

On 16 June 1941, five days before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Goebbels exulted, in the privacy of his diary, in the victory over Bolshevism that he believed would quickly follow. There would be no restoration of the tsars, he remarked to himself, after Russia had been conquered. But Jewish Bolshevism would be uprooted in Russia and “real socialism” planted in its place – “Der echte Sozialismus“. Goebbels was a liar, to be sure, but no one can explain why he would lie to his diaries. And to the end of his days he believed that socialism was what National Socialism was about.

In his article, Sehon criticizes Watson extensively for relying on a book by Otto Wagener, a Nazi who was removed from his position of authority in 1932, but he does not mention Watson’s quotation from Goebbels’s diary.

Goebbels was by no means alone among the Nazis holding power in his radical opinions. Ferdinand Zimmerman, who worked as an important economic planner for the Nazis, had been before their rise to power a contributor under the pen name Ferdinand Fried to the journal Die Tat, edited by Hans Zehrer, and a leading member of a group of nationalist intellectuals known as the Tatkreis. Fried strongly opposed capitalism, analyzing it in almost Marxist terms.

Wilhelm Roepke wrote a devastating contemporary criticism of Fried, now available in translation in his Against the Tide (Regnery, 1969). One of the best scholarly accounts of Fried’s views, which includes some discussion of his activities under the Nazi regime, is in Walter Struve’s Elites against Democracy: Leadership Ideals in Bourgeois Political Thought in Germany, 1890–1933  (Princeton University Press, 1973).

Sehon makes another misleading point in his article. He says,

Paul’s argument here goes from the undeniable premise that the Nazis had “socialist” as part of their name to the conclusion that the Nazis were, in fact, socialists. For that inference to work, Paul needs an intermediate premise like the following: If an organization has an adjective in their name, then the organization is correctly described by that adjective.

But if Senator Paul really believed this, then he would be forced to conclude that communist East Germany and present-day North Korea count as democracies, for the German Democratic Republic and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea both have the adjective “Democratic” as part of their name.

Sehon is right that the word “socialist” does not by itself tell us much, but unfortunately it does not occur to him to investigate what the Nazis meant by this word and why they used it.

Mises Wire: Stop Blaming Classical Liberalism for the Problems of Human Nature

This article from Zachary Yost at the Mises Institute talks about the confusing plethora of definitions in common use for liberalism – Stop Blaming Classical Liberalism for the Problems of Human Nature

In a recent essay at the new online conservative magazine IM-1776, writer Alex Kaschuta argues that the contemporary world is under “The Heavy Chains of Liberalism” that have, in her mind, destroyed humane life, abolished tradition, and left atomized individuals increasingly “free” from all social and personal restraint. These complaints are nothing new, and some of the problems she points to are all too real, however, her broadside attack against liberalism misses the mark on nearly every front.

For one thing, like many labels in use today, the word liberal has become so broad that its use encompasses many divergent streams of thought and bulldozes over important differences and nuances. Libertarians and classical liberals are intimately familiar with this problem, having adopted those labels as a means to try and deal with the bastardization of the term liberal.

In his most recent book, The Great Delusion, John Mearsheimer divides liberalism into two diverse schools of thought that are often at odds with one another. On the one hand, he identifies modus vivendi liberalism, which is largely focused on individual negative rights and is primarily concerned with state intrusion into life, and on the other hand, he identifies progressive liberalism which is much more concerned with positive rights and social engineering. Most notably, progressive liberalism is intimately connected to crusading schemes to remake the world in its universalist image. Modus vivendi liberalism, which Mearsheimer has identified with F.A. Hayek, lacks this universalist crusading impulse.

However, like many today, Kaschuta paints with a broad brush and conceives of only one liberalism in the mold of John Stuart Mill, who, she argues, “asserted that freedom lies in elevating choice and leaving aside burdensome custom, that the only way to be truly free is to unshackle yourself from the bonds of social mores, into ever freer choice.”

To be sure, there are libertarians who seem to identify maximalized individual choice and therefore control over every aspect of human existence as being the core of libertarianism. For instance, consider this line from Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch’s 2008 Reason essay “The Libertarian Moment“: “We are in fact living at the cusp of what should be called the Libertarian Moment, the dawning not of some fabled, clichéd, and loosey-goosey Age of Aquarius but a time of increasingly hyper-individualized, hyper-expanded choice over every aspect of our lives.”

It is certainly questionable to what extent such a focus on “hyperindividualism” belongs in the modus vivendi camp.

In contrast, a Misesian conception of liberalism is hardly focused on the destruction of social mores and tradition. Rather, in Mises’s words, “the program of liberalism…if condensed into a single word, would have to read property, that is, private ownership of the means of production”. Not only is this a different emphasis than maximum individual choice in every sphere of life, but Mises actually attacks Mill as “the originator of the thoughtless confounding of liberal and socialist ideas that led to the decline of English liberalism and to the undermining of the living standards of the English people…Mill is the great advocate of socialism.”

Hayek’s work is also absent of this Millian impulse, and in fact, directly contradicts it on many occasions by defending the idea of tradition as being the result of an evolutionary process of trial and error that should not just be casually tossed aside by those who “cannot conceive of anything serving a human purpose that has not been consciously designed” and in fact calls such people “almost of necessity enemies of freedom.”

Unlike many illiberals, Kaschuta recognizes that “the market works, and it has been nothing short of miraculous.” However, she proceeds to blame the market for “the despoiling of the planet, the destruction of local communities, and boom and bust cycles of ever-increasing intensity.” Whatever criticisms one might have about a free-market system, these are not very good ones.

There is no shortage of data showing that liberal societies, with their emphasis on property rights, lead to better environmental outcomes. And one need only look at the history of the Soviet Union, which nearly completely eliminated the Aral Sea, and slaughtered tens of thousands of whales for no purpose at all, to see how well a non-market-based economic system cares for the environment.

Similarly, blaming the free market system for the decline of community also misses the mark. There are many reasons why community and civil society have decayed, but as the work of sociologists Frank Tannenbaum and Robert Nisbet demonstrate, one of the primary reasons is the centralizing power of the state that seeks to undermine any rivals for social power. This can hardly be blamed on modus vivendi–style liberalism.

Finally, Kaschuta’s claim that the market naturally leads to boom and bust economic cycles ignores the entirety of Austrian Business Cycle theory that argues that rather than being the natural product of market forces, such business cycles are the result of malinvestment created by central bank monetary policy.

Kaschuta raises many salient points when she complains about modern man being “freed” from all restraint, but she misses the mark in placing all of the blame for this unmooring on the shoulders of liberalism. History is full of similar periods in societies across the globe where there was a collective loss of self-restraint. These epochs are not indicative of the “chains” of liberalism, but the shackles of human nature that no earthly ideology can hope to ever cast off. Human nature is what it is.

Liberalism will not solve human nature, but in the tradition of Mises and Hayek it can help to establish a social system in which humans can live peacefully with material prosperity. That is such a rare accomplishment in human history that its critics should exercise more caution before dispatching it to the dustbin of history.

Mises Institute: Self-Defense and “Taking the Law into Your Own Hands”

From Lew Rockwell at the Mises Institute Self-Defense and “Taking the Law into Your Own Hands” is about defending yourself and property from violence when “the law” will not. When “the law” abandons the people, is it vigilantism to defend yourself? The answer is, of course, no it isn’t, as self defense and defense of your property is legally authorized.

The riots in Louisville are only the latest in a long string of violent, raging mob riots by the criminal Marxist BLM movement, their mostly white “antifa” thuggish allies, and assorted looters. In this case, “Two police officers have been shot in Louisville, Ky., amid riots following the announcement of an indictment in the shooting of Breonna Taylor. Louisville chief of police Robert Schroeder confirmed that the officers were shot and were taken to a local hospital. Schroeder told reporters that one of the officers was undergoing surgery but in stable condition, while the other was alert and stable. Police have arrested one suspect in the shooting…after a grand jury charged just one of the officers involved in the shooting of Taylor in a botched drug bust. Rioters clashed with police throughout Louisville, burning trash cans and calling to defund the city police department.”

Last May, hundreds of businesses in the Twin Cities—Minneapolis and St. Paul—were damaged or looted during four days of unrest. In Los Angeles, “National Guard troops arrived in the nation’s second-largest city overnight after a fourth day of protests Saturday saw demonstrators clash repeatedly with officers, torch police vehicles and pillage businesses. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he asked Gov. Gavin Newsom for 500 to 700 members of the Guard to assist the 10,000 Los Angeles Police Department officers. ‘The California National Guard is being deployed to Los Angeles overnight to support our local response to maintain peace and safety on the streets of our city,’ said the mayor, who ordered a rare citywide curfew until Sunday morning. Firefighters responded to dozens of fires, and scores of businesses were damaged. One of the hardest-hit areas was the area around the Grove, a popular high-end outdoor mall west of downtown where hundreds of protesters swarmed the area, showering police with rocks and other objects and vandalizing shops.” About 3,000 protesters demonstrated in Brooklyn  and were pushed back by NYPD officers releasing chemical mace after the protests turned violent. A woman was arrested and charged with attempted murder after she threw a Molotov cocktail into an occupied police car.

Things are likely to get worse. A story in the New York Times, a paper very sympathetic to the BLM hoodlums, admits that rioters plan to assault suburban white areas. They will demand that the white residents, who are often elderly, bow down to them and surrender their homes. “Nearly four months after the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, some protesters against police brutality are taking a more confrontational—and personal—approach. The marches in Portland are increasingly moving to residential and largely white neighborhoods, where demonstrators with bullhorns shout for people to come ‘out of your house and into the street’ and demonstrate their support. These more aggressive protests target ordinary people going about their lives, especially those who decline to demonstrate allegiance to the cause. That includes a diner in Washington who refused to raise her fist to show support for Black Lives Matter, or, in several cities, confused drivers who happened upon the protests.”

Ordinary Americans cannot rely on the police to protect them. In many cases, left-wing governors and mayors have ordered the police to stand down. For them, solidarity with the rioters is more important than the lives and property of decent citizens. We have seen the absurdity of rioters being called “peaceful protestors” when videos show cities aflame. When the police do their duty and counter the violence of the black thugs, they are vilified as racists, indicted, and even shot at and killed. In these circumstances, they are hardly likely to stay on the job. If the police don’t protect you, you have no legal recourse, and in some places, police won’t even investigate cases of looting. “’Neither the Constitution, nor state law, imposes a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm—even when they know the harm will occur,’ said Darren L. Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at the University of Florida School of Law. ‘Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution.’ The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government has only a duty to protect persons who are ‘in custody,’ he pointed out.”

What, then, are we supposed to do? In an interview on the Tucker Carlson Show on September 23, Danny Coulson, a retired deputy assistant director of the FBI, condemned the rioters. But he thought that there was something even worse than the burning and looting, and this was the main reason he condemned them: their actions might lead to “vigilante justice.” People must not take the law into their own hands—that could lead to chaos. Instead, we must unify around support of the police.

His advice is useless, and it rests on a false premise. How can we support the police when they aren’t protecting us? His advice is like urging us to put out a fire with a hose unattached to a hydrant. The false premise is that vigilante justice is bad. Is it? Let’s look at the definition of the term: “Vigilantism is the act of enforcement, investigation or punishment of perceived offenses without legal authority. A vigilante (from Spanish vigilante) is practitioner of vigilantism.”

In other words, you are a vigilante if you exercise your basic right of self-defense without the permission of the predatory state that supports the rioters and looters. In fact, if people defended and protected themselves, the result would not be chaos, but a far better system than we have now. As the great Murray Rothbard explained, people in a free market society would defend themselves by hiring private protection agencies. The agencies would compete to provide the services customers want, rather than cater to the whim of a mob or promote venality and power seeking, as officials of the state do now. As Murray again and again stressed, the free market is always better at supplying goods and services than the state, and protection and defense are no exceptions.

He explains in For A New Liberty, “Free-market police would not only be efficient, they would have a strong incentive to be courteous and to refrain from brutality against either their clients or their clients’ friends or customers. A private Central Park would be guarded efficiently in order to maximize park revenue, rather than have a prohibitive curfew imposed on innocent—and paying—customers. A free market in police would reward efficient and courteous police protection to customers and penalize any falling off from this standard. No longer would there be the current disjunction between service and payment inherent in all government operations, a disjunction which means that police, like all other government agencies, acquire their revenue, not voluntarily and competitively from consumers, but from the taxpayers coercively. In fact, as government police have become increasingly inefficient, consumers have been turning more and more to private forms of protection. We have already mentioned block or neighborhood protection. There are also private guards, insurance companies, private detectives, and such increasingly sophisticated equipment as safes, locks, and closed-circuit TV and burglar alarms….Every reader of detective fiction knows that private insurance detectives are far more efficient than the police in recovering stolen property. Not only is the insurance company impelled by economics to serve the consumer—and thereby try to avoid paying benefits—but the major focus of the insurance company is very different from that of the police. The police, standing as they do for a mythical ‘society,’ are primarily interested in catching and punishing the criminal; restoring the stolen loot to the victim is strictly secondary. To the insurance company and its detectives, on the other hand, the prime concern is recovery of the loot, and apprehension and punishment of the criminal is secondary to the prime purpose of aiding the victim of crime. Here we see again the difference between a private firm impelled to serve the customer-victim of crime and the public police, which is under no such economic compulsion.”

Private law enforcement isn’t just a theoretical idea, as we can see from British and American history. In Britain, “Throughout the period 1674 to 1829 many victims of crime were able to identify and apprehend the culprits before contacting a constable or a justice of the peace to secure their arrest….Londoners continued to help apprehend suspected criminals. As the Proceedings frequently illustrate, cries of ‘stop thief!’ or ‘murder!’ from victims often successfully elicited the assistance of passers-by…[V]ictims frequently paid thief-takers to locate and apprehend suspects. Moreover, the difficulties the authorities had in identifying and apprehending criminals led them to offer rewards to those whose arrests led to the conviction of serious criminals, and pardons to accomplices who were willing to turn in their confederates. Increasingly, ordinary Londoners left the task of securing criminals to people who were motivated to do so by the prospect of financial or other rewards.”

We see the same thing in America. “The development of policing in the United States closely followed the development of policing in England. In the early colonies policing took two forms. It was both informal and communal, which is referred to as the ‘Watch,’ or private-for-profit policing, which is called ‘The Big Stick’….These informal modalities of policing continued well after the American Revolution. It was not until the 1830s that the idea of a centralized municipal police department first emerged in the United States.”

Danny Coulson was horror stricken about people hiring private bodyguards, but what is wrong with that? We should support our basic right to self-defense. This is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, but our rights don’t depend on the state and its constitution. By the way, the recently sainted Ruth Bader Ginsburg wanted to end the individual right to keep and bear arms. Our rights come from natural law, and only the free market can enforce them and protect us.

Mises Institute: Too Much Centralization Is Turning Everything into a Political Crisis

 

Porter Burkett writing at The Mises Institute asks if Too Much Centralization Is Turning Everything into a Political Crisis. When the federal government sticks it fingers into every action of your day, then everything becomes a political battle.

Is American politics reaching a breaking point? A recent study by researchers from Brown and Stanford Universities certainly paints a grim picture of the state of the national discourse. The study attempts to measure “affective polarization,” defined as the extent to which citizens feel more negatively toward other political parties than their own, in nine developed countries, including the United States. The study authors concluded that affective polarization has risen much faster and more drastically in the United States than in any of the other countries they studied (figure 1). They then speculated on possible explanations of increasing polarization, suggesting that changing party composition, increasing racial division, and 24-hour partisan cable news are convincing possible causes. Notably, the research was completed before the coronavirus pandemic or the police killing of George Floyd, two events that have only deepened political division.

While the study is interesting and well written, the authors completely fail to consider a more fundamental potential explanation of increasing polarization, one that is likely to be understood well by libertarians and federalists, who have long railed against the trend toward ever more usurpation of local and state sovereignty in American politics. I propose that the real culprit behind worsening polarization is the gargantuan federal government that has turned the entire country into an unceasing political battleground. When virtually all political issues are settled at the national level, the whole nation becomes a source of potential political opponents. Centralization changes the scale and with it the locus of political debate and conflict. For the average political participant, it is probably true that people with differing ideas live near you, in your city or state, but the mathematical reality is that the vast majority of your political opponents live relatively far away (spread throughout the rest of the country) and thus have no material connection to your life or your community. Political opposition becomes just numbers on a cable news screen: 49 percent for this, 51 percent for that. Sixty-two million votes for one candidate, 65 million for another. These numbers, without names or faces, become simple objects; some are pawns to be moved around, while others are obstacles to be pushed aside. This is not just speculation: previous research has indicated that partisanship is correlated with the use of tactics to dehumanize political opponents. Centralized political decision-making amounts to a systematic dehumanization of anyone who might participate in the political process.

The effects of such a disastrous form of organization are already evident. Political polarization is not confined to academic papers, but has now manifested in the streets of Kenosha and Portland. As the 2020 election approaches, politically charged killings between members of rival factions will only become more likely. What was formerly a central promise of democratic politics—the peaceful transfer of power—has been abandoned in favor of direct action and blood.

If centralization is the cause of our problems, then decentralization is the cure. Pushing decision-making power down to state and local levels as much as possible, closer to the people actually affected by the decisions, is the only way forward. Of course, it will not solve all the problems of political culture today. Policy debates and disagreements could still be just as intense at the local level as at the federal. But it is harder to dehumanize someone who might be a part of your community. Those numbers on the screen are on your local news now, not the national news. Those percentages and vote tallies might include your neighbor down the street, your Uber driver, the person ahead of you in line at the grocery store, or the old man you saw out walking his dog this morning. Technically, this has always been true, and we would do well to remember the humanity of the people we disagree with even while political focus is at the national level. This fact is simply harder to ignore when the primary nexus for political decisions is more immediate and local.

Admittedly, I do not know exactly how decentralization can happen. There is no magic blueprint. Maybe the worst pessimists are right, and we are doomed to fight some sort of second civil war before we remember that those with whom we disagree are people too. I think the future is brighter than that. Perhaps, as Mises Institute president Jeff Deist has pointed out, de facto decentralization has already begun. Fortunately, nobody has to know exactly what the new political structure will look like, and—arguably the best part of decentralization—it does not have to look the same everywhere. Both major parties, and people of all ideological persuasions, will probably have to give up some preferred victory or vanquishing of the “other side.” Many Democrats would love to prevent all abortion laws in the state of Georgia for the rest of time. Some Republicans would love to lock down California’s southern border with an airtight seal. A new era of decentralization means that neither of these things can be accomplished by federal imposition, and their proponents are not going to be happy about that. The task ahead is to demonstrate that whatever the sacrifices required to

Mises Institute: America’s Private Militias of the Nineteenth Century

Richardson Light Guard of Wakefield, MA

Ryan McMaken at the Mises Institute writes of some little known American history in America’s Private Militias of the Nineteenth Century

Since at least as early as the mid-1990s, the term “militia” has been increasingly used by journalists and scholars on the left in connection with alleged “right-wing extremists.”1

Over time, the term “militia” has been used to describe nearly any group of nonleftist armed men, and has been generally used in close connection with terms like “extremism,” “violence,” and “vigilante.” We have been reminded of this in recent years during riots in places like Ferguson, Missouri (in 2014), and Kenosha, Wisconsin (in 2020). In both cases, armed volunteers attempted to assist private sector business owners with protecting their property from looters and rioters. And in both cases, the volunteers were described with terms such as: “violent,” “militia,” “extreme,” and “white vigilante.”

Historically in the United States, however, the term “militia” had entirely different connotations. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, militias were considered to be common institutions central to civic and community life. They were a common fixture of local festivals and celebrations, and they functioned in some ways as fraternal orders function today.

Although some critics of the militia idea have attempted to claim militias existed primarily to suppress slave rebellions, the fact is militias were common and widespread in Northern states where they had no role whatsoever in maintaining the institution of slavery. In fact, militias often served an important role in providing opportunities and community cohesion for new immigrants.

The Local Militias of the Nineteenth Century

What’s more, many militias were independent of a centralized state militia system and functioned largely as private entities. They elected their own officers, were self-funded, and trained on their own schedules. Although they were ostensibly commanded by the state governors, this system of functionally private militias became an established part of daily life for many Americans. These were local volunteer militias with names like the “Richardson Light Guard,” the “Detroit Light Guard,” or the “Asmonean Guard.”2 They were essentially private clubs composed of gun owners who were expected to assist in keeping law and order within the cities and towns of the United States.

They were separate from the so-called common militias, which developed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and which in many cases were staffed with conscripts, were funded with tax dollars, and were commanded by an established state bureaucracy.

But by the Jacksonian period, new volunteer militias began to arise. As noted by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, the United States by the 1830s had seen “a remarkable growth in the privately organized volunteer militia. The number of volunteer units had been expanding steadily since the American Revolution, but after the war of 1812, it exploded. Three hundred sprang up in California alone between 1849 and 1856.”3

These groups were, in the words of historian Marcus Cunliffe, “volunteer companies existing independently of the statewide system of militia, and they held themselves aloof from the common mass. They provided their own uniforms.”4

They also elected their own officers, did their own fundraising, staffed their own governing boards, and sought out for themselves a secure position within the communities where members lived. In earlier decades, especially the 1830s and 1840s, these groups tended to be “elite” in the sense that they attracted upper middle– and upper-class members of the community. This was in many cases because of the cost of funding these volunteer militias.

As a member of the Detroit Light Guard remembered, “at that time the company got nothing from the State. They had to pay for all they got, uniforms and all.”5

But by the 1850s, firearms and uniforms were becoming more affordable to the middle and working classes. This brought in many new members from outside the local elite circles of established families. Moreover, some militias were able to solicit funding from wealthy members of the community who acted as patrons. The case of the Richardson Light Guard (RLG) is instructive:

The RLG came into being in South Reading, Massachusetts, in 1851, in response to a perceived shortage of militiamen in the years following the Mexican War. At the time, all that was necessary for the militia to be regarded as legally sanctions was for the group to “petition the governor” for what amounted to a nod of approval. This was granted. But at that point, the group still lacked funding. Although members paid dues, historian Barry Stentiford notes that “Dues were not enough [to] cover the expenses of the fledgling company, and committee members had to use their own money to carry out its business.”6

Members came up with a plan to offer “honorary memberships” to wealthy members of the community. The largest donor in this scheme was a man named Richardson, after whom the militia was soon named. Funding from prominent community members also added legitimacy to the group and ensured it would continue to be regarded as a community-sanctioned group of armed men.

Although the RLG enjoyed legal sanction, it was essentially a private organization, and Stentiford notes, “At its inception, the RLG belonged to its members, and to prominent residents of the town of South Reading. The town of South Reading, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the federal government occupied a diminishing hierarchy of influence.”7

In other words, while everyone admitted local, state, and federal officials enjoyed some form of control of the militia, this authority was tentative at best.

Massachusetts wasn’t the only place were militias were privately funded and privately controlled. When Iowa became a US territory in 1838, for example, an “official” territorial militia was formed. On the other hand:

The formation of local militia groups was more relaxed in comparison to the State militia service. To form a local militia group one would simply ask for local men to sign up, name the group, possibly elect officials or form by-laws, and then write to the Iowa Territory legislature to introduce themselves and request weapons….If you received a positive letter back and weapons, you were a militia group in the Territory of Iowa.

Indeed, this sort of local—and even private ownership—was an increasingly common method of organizing militias by midcentury. Hummel concludes that “Because many volunteer units were privately organized, recruited, and equipped, the militia became a partially privatized system as well.”

Because of their local nature, many militias reflected local character as well—and access was hardly limited to national ethnic majorities. By the 1850s, immigrants had come to dominate many volunteer militias, with Irish, Scottish, and German militias becoming especially common. The Scottish militiamen wore kilts as part of their parade uniforms. The Italians created a “Guardia Nazionale Italiana.” Robert Ernst notes that the “significance of the immigrant military companies is evident in the fact that in 1853, more than 4,000 of the 6,000 uniformed militia in New York City were of foreign birth.”8

Nor were militia groups limited to Christians. Jack D. Foner recounts in the American Jewish Archives Journal:

Jews in New York City formed military companies of their own. Troop K, Empire Hussars, was composed entirely of Jews, as was the Young Men’s Lafayette Association. A third unit, the Asmonean Guard, consisted of both Jewish and Christian employees of The Asmonean, one of the earliest Anglo-Jewish weekly newspapers. “Our employees,” commented the newspaper, “have been seized with this military mania, as they have enrolled themselves into an independent corps.”

As militias became more middle class, their names changed as well. Militias began to refer to themselves with names that might be used for sports teams today, including terms like “Invincibles,” “Avengers,” and “Snake Hunters.”

Dress uniforms were often extravagant and modeled on Napoleon’s troops earlier in the century. These groups were even known to impress foreigners. As one Englishman remarked: “They marched in sections, with a splendid band at their head and…it would be impossible to find a more military-looking, well-drilled body of men.”9

These volunteer militias were attractive to potential members, because these groups served many social functions as well. As noted by historian Briton Cooper Busch, “in peacetime, all [volunteer militias] helped their communities celebrate festivals, holidays, and funerals with marches, balls, and banquets, helping out in emergencies, and often building an esprit de corps which established a basis for effective wartime service and even elite reputations.”10

In many cases, membership in a local militia provided opportunities for social advancement, and “it was not uncommon for individual families to have long associations with these institutions.”11 For newcomers to any community, whether or not of foreign origin, “the militia company provided a means for newer residents to embed themselves into the fabric of the community.”12

The volunteer militias played a similar role to that of the volunteer fire brigades of this period, which in many communities came to be dominated by immigrant groups and served as a way to and advance the social and economic lives of newcomers.13

Militias Replaced by Full-Time Government Police and Centralized “National Guard”

Needless to say, this model of American militias is long gone from the imagination of nearly all Americans. Modern-day journalists and scholars have been hard at work attempting to connect militias, past and present, either to slavery or to fringe groups and vigilantism. Moreover, many Americans now regard the idea of privately controlled bands of armed men with trepidation and fear.

As the size and scope of taxpayer-funded bureaucratic agencies grew throughout the nineteenth century, private volunteer militias were deemed increasingly unnecessary and undesirable. The late nineteenth century was a period during which states and the federal government went to great lengths to end the old system of locally controlled militias, and this was topped off by the Militia Act of 1903 which largely ended state autonomy in controlling state military resources as well. By 1945, the National Guard was well on its way to becoming little more than an auxiliary to the federal government’s military establishment, although some remnants of the old decentralized system remained.

When it comes to urban environments, these militia were in many respects replaced by today’s state and local police forces, which unlike the volunteer militias are on the job full-time and enjoy immunity and privileges far beyond what any militia member of old might have ever dreamed of having. Rather than private self-funded militias called out only occasionally to quell riots and uprisings, we have immense, taxpayer-paid police forces with military equipment, SWAT teams, and riot gear to carry out no-knock raids (often getting the address wrong).

The old militia system was by no means flawless, but this switch to a more centralized bureaucratic system is not without costs of its own, both in terms of dollars and the potential for abuse.

Moreover, as has become increasingly apparent in recent years, National Guard troops and local police forces are clearly inadequate to provide safety and security for private homes and businesses. Half of the nation’s violent crimes remain “unsolved” as police focus on petty drug offenses rather than homicides. Meanwhile—as happened in both Ferguson and Kenosha—National Guard troops focus their protection on government buildings while private businesses burn.

The dominant shapers of public opinion would have us believe that volunteer groups of armed men must be regarded with horror. Yet it is increasingly clear that the institutions that have replaced the militias of the past still leave much to be desired.