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.

Mises Institute: Why the State Seeks to Abolish Both Tradition and History

From the Mises Institute, Why the State Seeks to Abolish Both Tradition and History

In the opening monologue of the much-beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman compares life for the Jewish inhabitants of the village Anatevka to the balancing act required of a fiddler scratching out a tune on a rooftop. According to Tevya’s famous allegory, the people of Anatevka are able to keep their balance thanks to their traditions. Yet as the story progresses, we see that even with tradition in place, keeping that balance is no easy task—especially when faced with rapid and unprecedented change.

Over the past century, tradition’s imperfections have led to its fade from our collective consciousness. It’s no longer viewed as a useful tool to help keep one’s balance on the roof of life, but rather is seen as a roadblock that must be removed from the path to progress. Thanks to a highly rationalist strain of Enlightenment thought beginning with thinkers such as Hobbes and Descartes, who held that all knowledge should be discovered by conscious reasoning, and culminating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the French Revolution, the importance of tradition has been greatly undermined. Thomas Paine summed up the antitraditionalist creed quite nicely when he declared that “we have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Guided by the power of reason, and liberated from the chains of the past, these Enlightenment rationalists promised progress and increased human happiness.

Yet, discarding tradition has not led us to the realm of happiness, as promised by the prophets of progress. Between 1999 and 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, the suicide rate in the US increased 24 percent. In 2017 the US saw the highest suicide rate in fifty years. Such tragic numbers are the exact opposite of what progressives, radical feminists, and neoconservatives, all the latter-day children of the Enlightenment rationalists, led us to believe would happen if only we cast off the binds of backwards tradition and were made free to pursue our individual self-actualization. By its very nature, tradition is extremely difficult to fully erase in practice, but there is no doubt that its decline has coincided with a decline in the conceptual understanding of tradition in favor of a belief in “progress.” It is no coincidence that the weakening of the mediating institutions of civil society, the transformation of the family, an acceptance of divorce and promiscuity, all have come about during a period in which tradition and custom have come to be viewed as useless chains from the past. Understanding the role of tradition in human life may help to explain why its decline has led to so much human alienation and suffering.

Before we truly may evaluate tradition, we must first rightly define it. To many, tradition is synonymous with backwardness or an inability to embrace change. This view is rooted in the heavy societal influence of French Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who held that society and its institutions perverted man’s natural goodness. Only through liberation from these institutions could man’s innate goodness be emancipated. Yet a proper understanding of tradition is quite different.

Tradition, rightly understood, isn’t an effort to freeze the world in place. Indeed, Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century British statesman and political thinker widely considered the father of Anglo conservatism, even said that “a state without the means of some change, is without the means of its own conservation.” Similarly, Oxford philologist and traditionalist author J.R.R. Tolkien attacked this static view of the world in Lord of the Rings in the form of his character Denethor. When asked in the midst of a crisis what he wants, Denethor replies, “I would have things as they were in all the days of my life…as in the days of my longfathers before me….But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated.” In the end, Denethor burns himself alive rather than accepting change—hardly a ringing endorsement of the static mentality so often ascribed to tradition. Professor Claes Ryn at the Catholic University of America continues the Burkean tradition, warning of the danger posed by stagnant, unchanging tradition that turns into “a kind of fetish, which has little relevance to a world that will not conform and will not stand still.” Rather, Ryn says, continuing tradition “cannot be the mere imitation or repetition of old patterns. It must be a fresh, vital force in the present.”

So if tradition is not merely a blind clinging to the past in an attempt to stop the future, what is it? A respect for tradition, properly understood, is simply an acknowledgment of the fact, as explained by conservative author Russell Kirk, “that modern people are dwarves on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.” In other words, tradition recognizes that knowledge and wisdom are accumulated through time, and not—in contrast to popular belief—able to be purely rationally derived and developed by one person or generation in time. Society itself, in all its complexity, is the result of this historical process, not the result of a single generation constructing itself on a blank slate.

The best way to think about tradition is to view it like capital accumulation in economics. The contemporary world enjoys unprecedented wealth, because, in the past, our ancestors chose to accumulate capital—or goods used to produce other goods. As the capital stock has grown, so too has the productive capacity of our economy.

Similarly, knowledge and wisdom are accumulated through countless centuries of trial and error. Rejecting the wisdom of the past is just as foolish as each new generation seeking to start industrial society over again from scratch. This analogy is not original, but comes straight from Burke himself, who wrote that “we are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.”

Friedrich Hayek argued that there are two views about the nature of society. There are the rationalist constructivists, who contend “that all the useful human institutions were, and ought to be, deliberate creations of conscious reason.” To them, tradition is irrelevant, since man is capable of structuring all of life without past experience and wisdom. Every generation, then, is capable of formulating and acting on all knowledge independently. In contrast, there are those nonconstructivist rationalists, whom Hayek identifies as “more modest and less ambitious.” This school, in the words of Professor Paul Cliteur at Leiden University, “assumes that, in all our thinking, we are guided by rules of which we are not aware, and that, therefore, our conscious reason can always take account of only some of the circumstances which determine our actions.” Because the power of human understanding is limited, it is impossible for us to account for all of the relevant knowledge when making a decision.

However, Hayek points out that we are not left to wallow completely in ignorance. Rather, our ancestors have passed down abstract rules and guides that “embody the experience of many more trials and errors than any individual mind could acquire.” Hayek, drawing upon Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, speaks of the benefit derived from a social order in which members obey abstract rules “even without understanding their significance.” This is in contrast to one in which such rules that represent the accumulated experience of the past are discarded in favor of seeking to base conduct on the information only immediately available to a single person or even a group.

It is quite easy to see that—for at least the past century—the rationalist constructivists, or the New Jacobins, as Claes Ryn calls them (after the original Jacobins in the French Revolution, who attempted to replace traditional institutions with their rationally planned society), have been culturally ascendant. The past, if it is considered at all, is often viewed as anachronistic and unenlightened, as something to be forgotten or even purged. But the negative consequences of this Jacobin mentality range from the merely inconvenient to the disastrous.

As Tevye wisely said in Fiddler on the Roof, tradition is a tool that helps people maintain their balance in life. By trying to rely solely on a constructivist form of reason, individuals have abandoned and weakened many traditional institutions, such as family, religion, and community that are an important ingredient to a stable and happy life. In his work The Quest for Community, sociologist Robert Nisbet chronicled the decline of community and the resulting alienation and decay of the social fabric. He directly attributes this loss to the rationalist constructivist perspective. In Nisbet’s words, “the modern release of the individual from traditional ties of class, religion, and kinship has made him free; but on the testimony of innumerable works in our age, this freedom is accompanied not by the sense of creative release but by the sense of disenchantment and alienation.”

The facts validate this claim. A Heritage Foundation report that compiled data from dozens of studies correlated religious practice with numerous positive outcomes. Religious practitioners experienced greater marital and familial stability, a lower risk of suicide, less likelihood of committing crimes, and longer life expectancy. Similarly, as Professor Lauren Hall at the Rochester Institute of Technology documents in her book Family and the Politics of Moderation, the family unit plays an important balancing role in society. It does this by restraining and moderating extreme collectivism and individualism, and by integrating the individual into a community. According to Hall, “a family consisting of a monogamous couple and two or more children” is best able to carry out the social functions of the family that promote both the well-being of the individual and the broader community. However, the Pew Research Center shockingly reports that “if current trends continue, 25 percent of young adults in the most recent cohort (ages 25 to 34 in 2010) will have never married by 2030. That would be the highest share in modern history.”

On a larger scale, a respect for tradition and the limits of human reason precludes attempts at “wiping the slate clean” and building the perfect planned society from scratch. One need only look at the horrifying results of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Mao’s Great Leap Forward to see what can happen when tradition and humble rationalism are abandoned.

Even if some libertarians are skeptical of the benefits of tradition on a personal level, they should be greatly concerned with its consequences on a societal level. When institutions that provide existential meaning are undermined, such as the family, atomized individuals often turn to the state and totalizing political movements for meaning. Similarly, the extermination of tradition is necessary for the triumph of totalitarian regimes. As Michael Federici of Middle Tennessee State University has argued concerning George Orwell’s 1984, “Oceania is a society governed by a totalitarian authority that aims to create complete obedience to the state. To accomplish this objective, it is necessary to destroy historical consciousness and old ways of life. Most everyone in Oceania has lost memory of historical life.” Winston Smith is able to recognize and resist the tyrannical regime, because he still maintains a shred of historical memory, and with that connection is able to see through the lies and propaganda. “He remembers a time when life was different, when social life was not controlled by the state.”

Today our society is wracked by germinal totalitarians eager to destroy history. Ostensibly this is in the name of justice, but this destruction and historical desecration are little more than a tactic for securing power for themselves. America is supposedly infected on the genetic level with unforgivable sins of racism and oppression and those seeking to destroy history conveniently have the solution: hand over power to them to facilitate our collective reeducation and penance. By failing to recognize the important role that tradition serves by preserving historical consciousness we aid and abet the rise of the forces currently seeking the complete overthrow of our society and the complete annihilation of our traditional rights and liberties.

Again, tradition is not mere stasis. The wisdom and knowledge it hands down to us is not fixed for all times and all places. Like all of society, it adapts and changes over time. According to Ryn, “tradition has to come alive in the here and now through the creativity of individuals who recognize both humanity’s dependence on the best of the past and the needs and opportunities offered by changed circumstances.”

Our task going forward is to both revitalize the decaying and forgotten stock of reason that has been passed down to us, and to forge ahead into the future. Tradition is by no means a perfect tool, and understanding and adapting it is no easy task, but properly understood, it is the best tool we have to face and weather the constantly changing circumstances of life and to preserve our hard-won liberties.

Mises Institute: It’s Time for a Geopolitical Reset

In this piece by José Niño at the Mises Institute, Niño argues that it is time for a revamping of US foreign policy – It’s Time for a Geopolitical Reset

Foreign policy seems to have been placed on the back burner in the Trump era. Domestic issues, generic outrage politics, and the present covid-19 pandemic have sucked the oxygen out of American political discourse.

The fact that the media opts to cover more sensationalist material does not make foreign policy a trivial matter. If anything, the lack of foreign policy coverage reveals the dilapidated state of contemporary political debate. When the Fourth Estate does bother to broach foreign policy it does so for the most hysterical reasons.

The ongoing Russian hysteria is the embodiment of the media’s infantile coverage of foreign policy. Although the Cold War has been over for decades, pundits on both the left and right remain convinced that Russia—a country of nearly 145 million and with an economic output smaller than Canada’s—is hell-bent on reenacting its past Cold War aspirations.

Iran has always been on neoconservatives’ minds as well. Suffering from the trauma of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, neoconservatives and their establishment liberal counterparts have spent decades slapping on sanctions and trying to push for regime change in Iran. Earlier this year, the neoconservative bloodthirst was partially quenched after the US government assassinated Major General Qasem Soleimani at the Baghdad Airport. In a surprising display of restraint, the Trump administration has not escalated any further in Iran and potentially thrust America into another disastrous intervention. Had Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush been at the helm, God knows where the US would find itself.

The global crusading has been cranked up to another level by provoking the Chinese government in the South China Sea and prodding into China’s internal affairs. From its repression of ethnic Uighurs in the Xinjiang region to its steps to consolidate power over Hong Kong, China’s internal affairs have been subject to scrutiny from the West. Reasonable people can recognize that China, despite making some pragmatic reforms in the 1980s, is still a repressive regime. But does this merit a potential escalation in the South China Sea or worse yet, a full-blown kinetic conflict?

Based on the fact that both China and the US are nuclear powers, cooler heads will likely prevail. But the fact that policymakers are entertaining the idea of risking a catastrophic conflict shows that politicians’ thirst for war and regime change destabilization has not gone away. Such delusions are the province of an empire in an inebriated state that prevents it from making rational judgments.

Why American Foreign Policy Is Due for a Correction

Frankly, it’s time to start talking about a geopolitical reset. A reorientation of American foreign policy priorities is long overdue. There are approximately two hundred thousand American troops in close to eight hundred bases in seventy countries stationed abroad.

According to American University anthropology professor David Vine, it costs taxpayers $85–100 billion per year to operate overseas military bases. Meanwhile, the decades-long war on terror has cost Americans $5.9 trillion and has led to the deaths of 6,951 American troops and at least 244,000–266,000 civilians in the Middle East. As of 2020, US defense spending stands at more than $732 billion—a figure higher than the next ten countries’ military budgets put together.

The Unipolar Moment Is Dead

Thanks to the US’s location and vast nuclear arsenal, it is relatively safe from external threats despite all the fearmongering coming from the interventionist crowd. It’s becoming clear that the missionary model of exporting democracy abroad is a failure.

Nonetheless, foreign policy hawks have remained adamant about pursuing regime change in Iran through stiff sanctions, saber rattling, and drawing first blood. We shouldn’t forget that US government meddling in the region goes deep. This all started when the CIA and British intelligence launched a successful coup against the populist leader Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, resulting in the installation of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Following the shah’s deposition in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the US has seen Iran as one of its primary foes. Increased sanctions starting in the 1980s, combined with additional sanctions imposed in each decade, have only increased tensions. Not to mention the heightened military presence that encircles the country, which has compelled Iran to get crafty in its opposition to US foreign policy. Iran has responded to US regime change attempts not only by filling in the power vacuum that the US left behind after completely decimating Iraq, but also by expanding its operations in Latin America through the establishment of clandestine networks in the region. Though none of the networks pose existential threats to the US, they show the lengths Iran will go to counter US encroachments in its backyard. It is the height of imperial hubris to think that countries will just stand down and let the US steamroll them.

Additionally, increased US hawkishness toward Iran has created the conditions for it to forge alliances with Russia and China—two countries that have also been hit with sanctions and subject to US bullying in the past decade. These ties have only strengthened amid the current covid-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, Iran won’t go down easily and will seek alliances with countries such as China and Russia, who share similar grievances with the zealous nature of American foreign policy.

It’s a New World out There

The world’s emerging multipolarity allows for countries to band together against a common antagonistic hegemon like the US. As the unipolar era of yore becomes a distant memory, the US can’t go throwing its weight around the world without repercussions. Regime change operations in Syria demonstrated that countries such as Iran and Russia are willing to step in to defend their interests regardless of what DC foreign policy wonks think.

Similarly, subtle machinations in Venezuela have seen countries like China, Iran, Russia, and Turkey respond by propping up the regime of the embattled strongman Nicolás Maduro. Any of the US’s attempts to try to topple governments it doesn’t like will be met with significant pushback. Regime change fanatics in DC can deny this all they want, but it’s part of the global realignment unfolding before our eyes.

It is amazing what governments can get away with when they have a printing press at their disposal. We are not getting rid of central banking any time soon, but the US’s deluded foreign policy ambitions can still be restrained. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of political will.

Policymakers should actually consider the costs of their foreign policy adventures before sending young people off to die in some ill-fated campaign and putting taxpayers—present and future—on the hook for such excursions.

A geopolitical reset that involves scaling back US interventions and its military presence abroad will foster pragmatic foreign policy decisions and the prioritization of actual defense policies. Whether or not American foreign policy leaders will abandon their imperial hubris is another matter.

Mises Institute: Mises and Rothbard on Democracy and Revolution

In this piece from the Mises Institute, David Gordon examines von Mises’ statement that the only convincing argument for democracy is that it allows for a peaceful change of power. Then he discusses Murray Rothbard’s critique which says that if that is true, then the democratic government that results must exactly resemble the government that would have resulted from a violent revolution and why that doesn’t happen. Another argument comes in when a government like the US is full of un-elected bureaucrats with great power who are protected from change from an election. In that case also, you end up with a government which does not reflect what might have been obtained by violent revolution.

Ludwig von Mises rejects the standard arguments for democracy. Not for him are the alleged virtues of public deliberation. For him, there is only one argument for democracy that is convincing. He says that only democracy allows for a peaceful change of power. Every government, he thinks, rests on popular consent. If a sufficient number of people find the government no longer tolerable, it won’t be able to maintain itself in power. In a democracy, people in this situation can peacefully replace the government with an opposition party more to its liking. Without democracy, there is liable to be a violent revolution, because those in power and their supporters are likely to cling to power, even if their position is in the long run unsustainable.

Mises puts the argument in this way in Liberalism:

Government by a handful of people—and the rulers are always as much in the minority as against those ruled as the producers of shoes are as against the consumers of shoes—depends on the consent of the governed, i.e., on their acceptance of the existing administration. They may see it only as the lesser evil, or as an unavoidable evil, yet they must be of the opinion that a change in the existing, situation would have no purpose. But once the majority of the governed becomes convinced that it is necessary and possible to change the form of government and to replace the old regime and the old personnel with a new regime and new personnel, the days of the former are numbered. The majority will have the power to carry out its wishes by force even against the will of the old regime. In the long run no government can maintain itself in power if it does not have public opinion behind it, i.e., if those governed are not convinced that the government is good. The force to which the government resorts in order to make refractory spirits compliant can be successfully applied only as long as the majority does not stand solidly in opposition.

There is, therefore, in every form of polity a means for making the government at least ultimately dependent on the will of the governed, viz, civil war, revolution, insurrection. But it is just this expedient that liberalism wants to avoid. There can be no lasting economic improvement if the peaceful course of affairs is continually interrupted by internal struggles….

Here is where the social function performed by democracy finds its point of application. Democracy is that form of political constitution which makes possible the adaptation of the government to the wishes of the governed without violent struggles. If in a democratic state the government is no longer being conducted as the majority of the population would have it, no civil war is necessary to put into office those who are willing to work to suit the majority. By means of elections and parliamentary arrangements, the change of government is executed smoothly and without friction, violence, or bloodshed.

There are various points at which you can challenge this argument. For example, what if the majority of people oppose the government, but there isn’t a consensus backing a particular opposition group? (I don’t mean that the party in power won’t let popular opposition groups run. Mises when he talks about democracy assumes that elections are fair.) But even if the argument can be challenged, it seems to have much in its favor.

Murray Rothbard raises a remarkable objection to this argument that hasn’t received the attention it deserves. His book Power and Market contains a profusion of arguments, one right after the other, and this one has escaped much notice.

His argument, in brief, is that if democracy is supposed to be a substitute for violent revolution, then the democratic government must exactly resemble the government that would have won out in a violent revolution. It is most unlikely that this will happen. If so, Mises’s argument fails.

Rothbard explains what he has in mind in this passage:

There is, moreover, another flaw in the “peaceful-change” argument for democracy, this one being a grave self-contradiction that has been universally overlooked. Those who have adopted this argument have simply used it to give a seal of approval to all democracies and have then moved on quickly to other matters. They have not realized that the “peaceful-change” argument establishes a criterion for government before which any given democracy must pass muster. For the argument that ballots are to substitute for bullets must be taken in a precise way: that a democratic election will yield the same result as would have occurred if the majority had had to battle the minority in violent combat. In short, the argument implies that the election results are simply and precisely a substitute for a test of physical combat. Here we have a criterion for democracy: Does it really yield the results that would have been obtained through civil combat? If we find that democracy, or a certain form of democracy, leads systematically to results that are very wide of this “bullet-substitute” mark, then we must either reject democracy or give up the argument.

How, then, does democracy, either generally or in specific countries, fare when we test it against its own criterion? One of the essential attributes of democracy, as we have seen, is that each man has one vote. But the “peaceful-change” argument implies that each man would have counted equally in any combat test. But is this true? In the first place, it is clear that physical power is not equally distributed. In any test of combat, women, old people, sick people, and 4F’s would fare very badly. On the basis of the “peaceful-change” argument, therefore, there is no justification whatever for giving these physically feeble groups the vote. So, barred from voting would be all citizens who could not pass a test, not for literacy (which is largely irrelevant to combat prowess), but for physical fitness. Furthermore, it clearly would be necessary to give plural votes to all men who have been militarily trained (such as soldiers and policemen), for it is obvious that a group of highly trained fighters could easily defeat a far more numerous group of equally robust amateurs.

Could Mises respond to this argument? He might have said that even if Rothbard is right that democracy isn’t a perfect substitute for the results of a violent revolution, it’s close enough to merit our support, given the costs of violence. But I’m sure Rothbard would have had a counter for that as well. Murray had an amazing ability to counter any argument against him, and I’ve never met his match in this.

Mises Wire: The Government Wants Your Crypto Data. And Lots of It.

Bitcoin Manifesto author Allan Stevo has an article at the Mises Institute about how the government would like to track your crypto transactions, as well as ways that can help anonymize your cryptocurrency use – The Government Wants Your Crypto Data. And Lots of It. Don’t be scared off of cryptocurrency just because governments want to control them. It takes some time and effort to understand and take countermeasures. While governments would have you think otherwise, the money you have earned is yours not theirs.

he Venezuelan government recently announced that its Administrative Service for Identification, Migration and Foreigners (SAIME) is now accepting bitcoin as a payment method for passports.

The problem with that is that bitcoin is not anonymous but pseudonymous.

To interact with any government using bitcoin is to reveal to them the wallet you are paying from. The blockchain is public. When commentators like Caitlin Johnstone and Stefan Molyneux or organizations such as the Mises Institute or TOR Foundation ask for bitcoin contributions, one can follow the money with a blockchain explorer to see how much comes in and how it is spent. One can also see who gave it to them if a donor hasn’t exercised some caution in protecting their privacy.

I would never want the Venezuelan government, the US government, or anyone else who might misuse that information to be able to peek into my crypto finances, especially not through a transaction tied to my passport. Who’s to say that the next time I appear at an immigration checkpoint I won’t be flagged for having too fat of a bitcoin wallet or putting money toward some politically incorrect use?

Though the Venezuelan government dedicates a fraction of the resources to spying on its citizens that the US government does to spying on Americans, there is no need to carelessly provide any government with extra personal data. Knowledge in the hands of the state will be used as a weapon in the hands of the state.

There are plenty of lists of big bitcoin wallets and there are people who make a name for themselves by watching bitcoin move from one account to another. Among them is the US government.

On February 6, 2018, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) chairman Chris Giancarlo before the US Senate Banking Committee revealed that the US government uses spot exchanges such as Bitstamp, Coinbase, itBit, and Kraken to glimpse into the industry.

Chainalysis, run by Kraken’s cofounder and former COO Michael Gronager, exists to tie personal identity to bitcoin transactions. Their business model is the reduction of other people’s personal privacy, data that they then monetize by selling it to their customers. Far more sinister than Google or Facebook, which at least anonymize data prior to selling it to advertisers, Chainalysis links real-life personal data, including legal name, to a specific wallet. Many blockchain analysis competitors exist.

Coinbase has recently come under fire for having a similar service, Coinbase Analytics, which has a contract with the US Department of Homeland Security. “Coinbase joins a crowded field of cryptocurrency analytics companies – Chainalysis, Elliptic, CipherTrace and others – vying for a piece of the federal pie. Agencies from all corners of the U.S. government regularly contract with crypto intel firms, inking deals for their tracing software worth millions, and sometimes stretching years,” reports Coindesk.

The bitcoin exchanges that KYC (know your customer) their customers are a perfect place for industry data collection to take place. Coinbase could monetize and simplify that data collection process, not only charging fees for their exchange services, but taking it a step further and monetizing their user data, making their users the product. This is especially pernicious in the privacy obsessed, smaller-government realm of cryptocurrency.

How much money did it take for this $8 billion company to sell out crypto consumers to the US government? Government disclosure shows that the contract has a current award amount of $49,000, with potential for another $134,750 total over the next four years.

Coinbase has reassured users that it is only collecting publicly available data about its users, nothing more, and packaging that for government use. Its CEO, Brian Armstrong, has encouraged users not to use bitcoin if they don’t want to be snooped on by Coinbase, but to use privacy coins instead.

Luckily, the marketplace is responding to privacy incursions like this:

  • There are decentralized exchanges like Bisq that can’t easily be subpoenaed because there is no central entity to subpoena.
  • Additional ways of anonymizing bitcoin purchases exist, such as with cash or through ATMs, which may or may not KYC customers.
  • We are now witnessing the introduction of “privacy coins.” These are designed to be far more difficult to trace—some might even say impossible—though I long ago learned that the word “impossible” is not really that accurate, as possibility or impossibility is merely a question of will and available resources.

This topic of maintaining privacy in bitcoin transactions is especially pertinent as personal privacy comes under attack.

  • US Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) have introduced the “Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act,” an antiencryption bill that insists that all encryption without a government back door is illegal. To follow such an order would spell the death of encryption. Any encryption with a back door is not actually encryption.
  • The pseudonymous Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex was under threat of doxxing by the New York Times and consequently deleted his popular blog out of privacy concerns. The New York Times defended itself by saying it has a policy to identify all people it writes about. Alexander, after a month of silence from the New York Times on the topic, believes the threat has subsided. The callous disregard for privacy remains.
  • Google and Apple are begging governments to let them use mobile phones to monitor the whereabouts of users in the name of the latest cause against liberty—public health.

As journalist Peter Chawaga has pointed out, “Privacy is becoming one of the most scarce resources in the world.”

If these attacks on privacy were without consequence, then perhaps one might feel better about them, but as the current spate of cancel culture demonstrates—from Central Park Karen to Seattle’s middle finger Karen—merely having a camera turned on a person when they’re showing disagreeable behavior can be enough to shatter the fragile lives that many live. There’s almost a sociopathic hunger to destroy a person intertwined in some of this behavior. How much worse would the impact of that mob of sociopaths be if they also had access to all of a person’s financial data?

It’s a great time for more encryption and more privacy, and an awful time for helping governments or any other organization populate databases that you can guarantee will one day be used heartlessly against you.

Mises Institute: Americans Are Buying Guns in Record Numbers

Ryan McMaken at the Mises Institute writes Americans Are Buying Guns in Record Numbers. The Washington Post Isn’t Pleased. about how rising political instability and violence in the US has led to a record surge in gun sales and especially sales to first time gun owners and how the media is desperately trying to spin this as increased gun ownership causing increased crime.

Social scientists have been trying for many years to blame homicides on the presence of guns. A favorite tool in this quest is the use of studies that show a correlation between gun ownership and crime. These studies are then reported as “evidence” that the presence of guns causes crime.

But there’s always been a problem with this attempt at showing causality between guns and homicides: causality can just as plausibly go the other way. That is, in times and places where the local population feels they are in danger of being crime victims, people are more likely to purchase guns for protection. So, rather than saying “guns cause crime,” we should be saying “crime causes guns.”

New Gun Purchases Soar as Uncertainty and Violence Increase

We’re likely seeing this phenomenon at work now.

In recent months, according to the firearm industry’s trade group National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), Americans have purchased millions of guns:

The early part of 2020 has been unlike any other year for firearm purchases—particularly by first-time buyers—as new NSSF® research reveals millions of people chose to purchase their first gun during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fox News reports:

Gun sales have skyrocketed during the past three months, and a record-breaking 80.2 percent increase in sales was reported in May compared to last year, according to the shooting foundation. April’s data showed a 71.3 percent increase from 2019, and there was an 85.3 percent increase in March, according to information previously released by Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting.

Many new gun owners during this period feared general unrest as a result of the government-mandated lockdowns. Potential first-time buyers still on the fence about buying a firearm in May were perhaps confirmed in their fears by the riots that erupted after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Then, in the wake of the riots, serious violent crime appeared to spike. It was widely reported, for instance, that homicides in New York City spiked “21 percent in first six months of 2020.” Crime in other cities increased as well, ranging from a jump of over 200 percent in Nashville to 23 percent in Kansas City, Missouri.

Naturally, seeing these news stories, many potential gun owners are more likely to conclude that they need a gun for personal protection. This is especially true when combined with a perception that police organizations cannot be relied upon to engage in crime prevention and enforcement. And this has indeed been the perception in many places where police have appeared unwilling to intervene in June’s riots.

Many normal people would see these events as an illustration of how gun purchases result from fears over crime and uncertainty.

But now, perhaps predictably, left-wing media organizations like the Washington Post are trying to turn this narrative around: people aren’t buying guns as a reaction to violence and social disarray, the Post insists. All those new gun purchases are what’s causing the violence in the first place.

Says the Post:

Americans purchased millions more guns than usual this spring, spurred in large part by racial animosity stoked by widespread protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as anxiety over the effects of the covid-19 pandemic.

That gun-buying binge is associated with a significant increase in gun violence across the United States.

The Post cites two new reports, one from the Brookings Institution and another from the University of California, both of which conclude that the rise in gun purchases has likely caused more “gun violence.”

Note the careful use of language here, though: the gun purchases are “associated” with an increase in gun violence, since causality cannot be established. Indeed, near the bottom of the Post article, the author admits:

The authors [of the Brookings and UC reports] caution that a study of this nature cannot prove causality, particularly at a time of massive social upheaval in a country dealing with an unprecedented public health crisis as well as a nationwide protest movement.

Of course, if one is already committed to the idea that guns cause crime, it makes perfect sense that millions of Americans in early 2020—after passing a criminal background check—will buy guns, and then almost immediately use those guns to commit crimes.

Moreover, it’s unclear that the two studies referenced by the Post article even imply that homicides result from more gun purchases.

The Brookings study, for instance, is more of an op-ed than a study. It’s simply a review of some past events which were followed by surges in gun purchases, including the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings. This appears to be true indeed, and is a helpful reminder that people do often purchase firearms in light of concerns over personal safety, or at least in light of concerns about future access to firearms.

The UC study is a bit more specific, but even this is far too general to be of any use in concluding that gun purchases lead to violence. Because of data limitations, the UC report, of course, doesn’t establish that the people who bought firearms this year are responsible for any increase in crime that may be occurring. But it’s not even established that surges in gun purchases correlate with surges in crime at the city or neighborhood levels. This is critical, since trends in homicides are not really on a statewide or even metro-wide level. Homicide trends in the US tend to be dominated by homicides in a relatively small number of cities and neighborhoods. For example, the homicide rate in Baltimore is ten times that of the US overall. But this doesn’t mean homicides in Maryland are remarkably high.

So, have firearms purchases surged near the neighborhoods in Chicago, New York, and Kansas City where surges in crime have also occurred? It’s possible, since people bordering the most violent neighborhoods may feel the most at risk. On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible that firearms sales are occurring in places relatively distant from the places with surging homicides. The UC study only appears to give a state-level reading on this. In other words, the study really tells us very little.

Mises Institute: The State – The Deadliest Virus

Professor Jesús Huerta de Soto, a Spanish economist, writes this piece for the Mises Institute about government tyrannies in Spain, but most of them could just as easily be applied to the US government — The State: The Deadliest Virus.

The deadliest virus is the institutionalized coercion which lies in the very DNA of the state and may even initially permit a government to deny the outbreak of a pandemic. Evidence has been suppressed, and heroic scientists and doctors have been harassed and silenced simply because they were the first to realize and expose the gravity of the problem. As a result, weeks and months have been lost, at an enormous cost: hundreds of thousands of people have died due to the worldwide spread of an epidemic which, in the beginning, the shamefully manipulated official statistics made appear less dangerous than it actually was.

The deadliest virus is the existence of cumbersome bureaucracies and supranational organizations, which did not manage or wish to monitor in situ the reality of the situation, but instead endorsed the information received, while offering constant support and even praising—and thus becoming accessories to—all the coercive policies and measures adopted.

The deadliest virus is the notion that the state can guarantee our public health and universal welfare, when economic science has demonstrated the theoretical impossibility of the central planner’s giving a coherent and coordinating quality to the coercive commands it issues in its attempt to achieve its pompous objectives. This impossibility is due to the huge volume of information and knowledge which such a task would require and which the planning agency lacks. It is also, and primarily, due to the fact that the institutional coercion typical of the agency impacts the social body of human beings, who alone are capable of coordinating themselves (and do so spontaneously) and creating wealth. Such coercion prevents the emergence of precisely the firsthand knowledge the state needs to bring about coordination with its commands. This theorem is known as the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism. Mises and Hayek discovered the theorem in the 1920s, and the events of world history cannot be understood without it.

The deadliest virus is the dependency and complicity shown toward the state by countless scientists, experts, and intellectuals. When authorities are drunk with power, this symbiosis leaves a manipulated civil society unarmed and defenseless. For instance, the Spanish government itself urged citizens to take part in mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people while the virus was already spreading exponentially. Then, just four days later, the decision was announced to declare a state of alarm and coercively confine the entire population to their homes.

The deadliest virus is the demonization of private initiative and of the agile and efficient self-regulation characteristic of it, combined with the deification of the public sector in every area: the family, education, pensions, employment, the financial sector, and the healthcare system (a particularly relevant point at present). Over 12 million Spanish people, including—quite significantly—almost 90 percent of the more than 2 million government employees (and among them a vice president of the Spanish government), have freely chosen private healthcare over public healthcare. The doctors and nurses of the public healthcare system work hard and selflessly, and their heroic efforts are never sufficiently recognized. However, the system cannot possibly do away with its internal contradictions, its waiting lists, or its proven incompetence in the matters of universal prevention and the protection of its own workers. But, by a double standard, any minor defect in the private sector is always immediately condemned, while far more serious and flagrant defects in the public sector are viewed as definitive proof of a need to spend more money and increase the size of the public sector even further.

The deadliest virus is the political propaganda channeled through state-owned media and also through private media outlets which, nonetheless, are dependent on the state as if it were a drug. As Goebbels taught, lies repeated often enough to the population can be turned into official truths. Here are a few: that the Spanish public healthcare system is the best in the world; that public spending has continued to decrease since the last crisis; that taxes are to be paid by “the rich” and they are not paying their fair share; that the minimum wage is not detrimental to employment; that maximum prices do not cause shortages; that a universal minimum income is the panacea of well-being; that the northern European countries are selfish and unsupportive, because they do not wish to mutualize the debt; that the number of deaths officially reported reflects the actual number of deaths; that only a few hundred thousand people have been infected; that we are performing more than enough tests; that face masks are unnecessary, etc. Any moderately diligent citizen can easily verify that these are all lies.

The deadliest virus is the corrupt use of political terminology involving misleading metaphors to mesmerize the population and make people even more submissive and dependent on the state. We are told that we are fighting a “war,” and that once we win, we will need to begin the “reconstruction.” But we are not at war, nor is it necessary to reconstruct anything. Fortunately, all of our capital equipment, factories, and facilities are intact. They are there, waiting for us to devote all of our effort and entrepreneurial spirit to getting back to work, and when that happens, we will very quickly recover from this standstill. However, for this to occur, we must have an economic policy that favors less government and more entrepreneurial freedom, reduces taxes and regulations, balances public accounts and puts them on a sound footing, liberalizes the labor market, and provides legal certainty and bolsters confidence. While such a free market policy enabled the Germany of Adenauer and Erhard to recover from a far graver situation following World War II, Spain will be impoverished and doomed to move at idling speed if we insist on taking the opposite path of socialism.

The deadliest virus consists of the deification of human reason and the systematic use of coercion, which the state embodies. It appears before us in sheep’s clothing as the quintessence of a certain “do-goodism” that tempts us with the possibility of reaching nirvana here and now and of achieving “social justice” and ending inequality. However, it conceals the fact that the Leviathan thrives on envy and thus fuels hatred and social resentment. Hence, the future of humanity depends on our ability to immunize ourselves against the most deadly virus: the socialism which infects the human soul and has spread to all of us.

Mises Institute: COVID Lockdowns Crippled the Division of Labor, Setting the Stage for Civil Unrest

Photo courtesy Associated Press

Associate Professor Jonathan Newman of Bryan College writes for the Mises Institute about how the breakdown of voluntary participation in the economy created fuel for social disturbance in COVID Lockdowns Crippled the Division of Labor, Setting the Stage for Civil Unrest.

In his podcast, Dave Smith has likened the lockdowns to gasoline and the murder of George Floyd to a spark.

But why were the lockdowns fuel for social unrest? One of the reasons the lockdowns paved the way for social unrest is that they led to a widespread breakdown in the division of labor. This could only result in more conflict and social unrest.

Economist Ludwig von Mises has explained why this is so. In Human Action, Mises presents the division of labor as more than a purely economic concept. Although he certainly expounds the increased productivity attributable to the division of labor, he also heralds it as civilization itself. It is social cooperation and mutuality. He presents it in opposition to conflict and violence. The division of labor is predicated on and also results in peaceful relations between individuals.

Here, I want to discuss the gasoline, and not the spark. Mises.org writers have discussed the spark and the related issues of institutional problems with police departments, police brutality, a breakdown in trust in the police, and police militarization.

What Is the Division of Labor?

The division of labor is just what it sounds like: one person does one job while another person does a different job. In a market economy, these jobs are not assigned randomly, but are purposefully chosen by each individual according to his or her own skills and values. Instead of trying to produce everything we want to consume on our own, we produce one good and offer it in exchange for a variety of goods we prefer.

The ability to consume a larger variety of goods is not the only benefit of the division of labor. Total production increases enormously, such that each individual who participates in the division of labor enjoys a massive increase in his standard of living. The division of labor allows us to emerge from bare subsistence and flourish as a civilization, producing art, writing philosophy, celebrating holidays, and exploring space. These things are impossible for man in economic isolation.

One of the greatest laws of economics is the law of association, which Mises proves mathematically (uncharacteristically) in Human Action. The law of association shows that everyone who participates in the division of labor gains as a result. No one is excluded from this opportunity. Thus,

The law of association makes us comprehend the tendencies which resulted in the progressive intensification of human cooperation. We conceive what incentive induced people not to consider themselves simply as rivals in a struggle for the appropriation of the limited supply of means of subsistence made available by nature. We realize what has impelled them and permanently impels them to consort with one another for the sake of cooperation. Every step forward on the way to a more developed mode of the division of labor serves the interests of all participants. (p. 159)

Unraveling the Division of Labor

The undoing of the division of labor and the social cooperation that it both requires and entails is social conflict.

The market economy involves peaceful cooperation. It bursts asunder when the citizens turn into warriors and, instead of exchanging commodities and services, fight one another. (p. 817)

During the months of government-imposed lockdowns, everybody was prevented from participating in the division of labor as they were accustomed to. Even those who kept their jobs could not exchange goods with those who did not keep their jobs. The entire social nexus was reduced to a small list of government-defined “essential” services. The increase in unemployment is really only a part of the picture of the economic harm caused by the lockdowns. Everybody who relied on the goods and services produced by the so-called nonessential businesses was harmed: consumers, employees, and proximate businesses in the structure of production alike.

Man shall not live by government-defined essential services alone, however. For a short time, and where possible, citizens resorted to black markets and self-sufficiency (which, as we have seen, is hardly sufficient). But a spark and the cover of protests in the streets gave some a chance to acquire goods by theft. These opportunists are aided by additional mayhem like vandalism, violent assault, and arson. Unfortunately, both insufficient and over-the-top responses by police also add to the mayhem, giving violent rioters more opportunity and also poorly reasoned, two-wrongs-make-a-right self-justification for their aggression.

We only have three options for getting what we want: we can produce it, we can take from somebody who has produced it, or we can exchange peacefully with somebody who has produced it. The third option is the division of labor, and it is the only one that involves peaceful cooperation with others. It is also the only option that sustains civilization. Looting, vandalism, assault, and arson are regressive—they are not a means to advance society. They are the unraveling of society and the social harmony brought about by the division of labor…

Peace can only resume when entrepreneurs find it profitable to reopen their businesses. Government lockdowns and violent mobs are data for the entrepreneur’s decision-making process. Mises warns that it can get so bad that civilization crumbles…(continues)

Mises Institute: Three Ways Lockdowns Paved the Way for Riots

Ryan McMaken at the Mises Institute has an article on Three Ways Lockdowns Paved the Way for These Riots

There were many reasons to oppose the COVID-19 lockdowns.

They cost human lives in terms of deferred medical treatmentThey cost human lives in terms of greater suicide and drug overdoses. Domestic abuse and child abuse have increased. There is also good reason to believe that lockdowns don’t actually work. The lockdown activists capitalized on media-stoked fear to push their authoritarian agenda based not on science, but on the whims of a handful of experts who insisted that they need not present any actual evidence that their bizarre, draconian, and extreme scheme was worth the danger posed to human rights, health, and the economic well-being of billions of human beings.

Those who lacked the obsessive and irresponsible tunnel vision of the prolockdown people warned that there were other dangers as well, in terms of social and political conflict.

It didn’t require an especially clear crystal ball to see that destroying the livelihoods of countless millions while empowering a police state to harass and arrest law-abiding citizens would create a situation that maybe—just maybe—could lead to greater social and political conflict.

Specifically, there are three ways in which the lockdowns laid the groundwork for our current state of unrest.

The Lockdowns Created an Economic Disaster

The COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, business closures, and other forms of coerced social distancing have so far led to job losses for well over 30 million Americans. The unemployment rate has risen to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Food banks are under strain as Americans line up for free food. Thanks to government moratoria on evictions in many areas, it is still unknown to what extent homeowners and renters are unable to pay mortgages and rents, but a wave of delinquencies is almost certainly coming.

To advocates of lockdowns, this is all “worth it” even though these sorts of economic stresses often lead to suicide, stress-induced disease, and death. But impoverishment, unemployment, and financial ruin are all merely “inconvenient,” as described by head lockdown advocate Anthony Fauci.

To someone who isn’t enamored of lockdowns, however, it is clear that millions of job losses are likely to worsen a variety of social ills, sometimes even resulting in violence. Moreover, the current job losses appear to be affecting the young and those who earn lower incomes most.

Lockdown advocates have attempted to avoid responsibility for all this by claiming that it is the pandemic itself that has caused the current economic disaster, and not the lockdowns. This is a baseless assertion. As has been shown, neither the pandemics of 1918 or 1958 led to the sorts of job losses and decline in economic growth that we’re now seeing.

The Lockdowns Destroyed Social Institutions

Another outcome of the lockdowns has been the destruction of American social institutions. These institutions include schools (both public and private), churches, coffee shops, bars, libraries, barbershops, and many others.

Lockdown advocates continue to claim that this is no big deal and insist that people just sit at home and “binge watch” television shows. But researchers have long pointed to the importance of these institutions in preserving peace and as a means of defusing social tensions and problems.

As much as lockdown advocates may wish that human beings could be reduced to creatures that do nothing more than work all day and watch television all night, the fact is that no society can long endure such conditions.

Human beings need what are known as “third places.” In a 2016 report, the Brookings Institution described what these places are:

the most effective ones for building real community seem to be physical places where people can easily and routinely connect with each other: churches, parks, recreation centers, hairdressers, gyms and even fast-food restaurants. A recent newspaper article on McDonald’s found that for lower-income Americans, the twin arches are becoming almost the equivalent of the English “pub,” which after all is short for “public house”: groups of retirees meeting for coffee and talk, they might hold regular Bible study meetings there, and people treat the restaurant as an inexpensive hangout.

Third places have a number of important community-building attributes. Depending on their location, social classes and backgrounds can be “leveled-out” in ways that are unfortunately rare these days, with people feeling they are treated as social equals. Informal conversation is the main activity and most important linking function. One commentator refers to third places as the “living room” of society.

The lockdown advocates, in a matter of a few days, cut people off from their third places and insisted, in many cases, that this would be the “new normal” for a year or more.

Yet, these third places cannot simply be shut down—and the public told to just forget about them indefinitely—without creating the potential for violence and other antisocial behavior.

Indeed, third places act as institutions that provide a type of social control that is key to a well-functioning society. In his trenchant book The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, historian and social critic Christopher Lasch described the importance of third places in communicating political and social values and conventions to young people, and in setting the bounds of acceptable behavior within the community. Lasch notes that these institutions are also important in defusing violent impulses among the young. Also of great importance is the fact that third places provide a means of social control that is voluntary and not a form of state coercion.

Writing in the 1990s, Lasch was lamenting the decline of third places, although he emphasized their importance even in their modern reduced form. Thanks to the lockdowns, however, these places have been crippled far beyond what Lasch might ever have imagined.

The Lockdowns Empowered the Police State

The lockdowns have created a situation in which millions of law-abiding citizens have been deemed criminals merely for seeking to make a living, leave their homes, or engage in peaceful trade.

In many areas, violations of the lockdown orders have been—or even still are, in many places—treated as criminal acts by police. This has greatly increased negative interactions between police and citizens who by no moral definition are criminals of any sort.

Many have already seen the stories: police arresting mothers for using playground equipment, police arresting business owners for using their own property, police beating people for the “crime” of standing on a sidewalk.

Complicating the issue is the apparent fact that police have not enforced social distancing edicts “uniformly.” Some have alleged, for example, that the NYPD has lopsidedly targeted nonwhites in enforcement:

of the 40 people arrested [for social distancing violations in Brooklyn between March 17 and May 4], 35 were African American, 4 were Hispanic and 1 was white. The arrests were made in neighborhoods—Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Cypress Hills and East New York—which have large concentrations of blacks and Latinos.

This may or may not reflect the reality of the general situation, but the fact is that the lockdowns created the perception among many that this is just yet another case of law enforcement targeting certain populations over small-time violations.

Moreover, it is quite plausible that lower-income populations have more often been on the receiving end of state harassment in the name of social distancing. After all, compliance with lockdowns is something of a luxury reserved for higher-income, white-collar residents who can work from home and remain comfortable for long periods in their roomy houses. Working-class people and those with fewer resources are far more likely to need to find income and venture outside during lockdowns. This attracts the attention of police.

Lockdown advocates, apparently in their usual state of extreme naïvete, perhaps believed that further empowering police to violently enforce government decrees against petty infractions would not lead to any unfortunate side effects down the road. Yet criminalizing millions of Americans and subjecting them to heightened police harassment is not a recipe for social tranquility.

Worsening a Volatile Situation

Of course, my comments here should not be interpreted as making excuses for rioters. Smashing up the property of innocent small business owners—or worse, physically harming innocent people—is reprehensible in all circumstances. But this isn’t about making excuses. We’re talking about avoiding extreme and immoral government policies (i.e., police-enforced lockdowns) that remove those institutions and conditions which are important in helping minimize conflict.

Some may insist that the riots would have occurred no matter what, but it’s easy to see how the lockdowns made a bad situation worse. Yes, some of the rioters are lifelong thugs who are always on the lookout for new opportunities to steal and maim. But experience suggests that the pool of people willing to engage in riots is often larger during periods of mass unemployment than during other periods. In addition, those people who exist on the margins of criminality—the sorts of people for whom third places serve an important role in moderating their more antisocial tendencies—are more likely to be swept up in these events when third places are abolished. And, as we have seen, lockdowns also create more opportunities for police abuse that ignite riots of the sort we’ve seen in recent days.

It’s true the responsibility for the riots lies primarily with the rioters. But we cannot deny that policymakers fuel the flames of conflict when they outlaw jobs and destroy people’s social support systems by cutting them off from their communities. It’s also wise to not provoke people by pushing for widespread human rights violations and additional police harassment. But this is what lockdown advocates have done, and their imprudence should not be forgotten.

Mises Institute: The School Closures Are a Big Threat to the Power of Public Schools

Ryan McMaken at Mises Institute writes about how US school closures during this pandemic are changing the way people think about schools, confidence in the institution, and how it may lead to changes in the future. The School Closures Are a Big Threat to the Power of Public Schools

Twenty twenty is likely to be a watershed year in the history of public schooling. And things aren’t looking good for the public schools.

For decades, we’ve been fed a near-daily diet of claims that public schooling is one of the most important—if not the most important—institutions in America. We’re also told that there’s not nearly enough of it, and this leads to demands for longer school hours, longer school years, and ever larger amounts of money spent on more facilities and more tech.

And then, all of sudden, with the panic over COVID-19, it was gone.

It turns out that public schooling wasn’t actually all that important after all, and that extending the lives of the over-seventy demographic takes precedence.

Yes, the schools have tried to keep up the ruse that students are all diligently doing their school work at home, but by late April it was already apparent that the old model of “doing public school” via internet isn’t working. In some places, class participation has collapsed by 60 percent, as students simply aren’t showing up for the virtual lessons.

The political repercussions of all this will be sizable.

Changing Attitudes among the Middle Classes

Ironically, public schools have essentially ditched lower-income families almost completely even though school district bureaucrats have long based the political legitimacy of public schools on the idea that they are an essential resource for low-income students. So as long as the physical schools remain closed, this claim will become increasingly unconvincing. After all, “virtual” public schooling simply doesn’t work for these families, since lower-income households are more likely to depend on both parents’ incomes and parents may have less flexible job schedules. This means less time for parents to make sure little Sally logs on to her virtual classes. Many lower-income households don’t even have internet access or computing equipment beyond their smartphones. Only 56 percent of households with incomes under $30,000 have access to broadband internet.

Nonetheless, working-class and lower-income parents are likely to return their children to the schools when they open again. Many believe they have no other choice.

Attitudes among the middle classes will be a little different, however, and may be more politically damaging to the future of the public schools.

Like their lower-income counterparts, middle class parents have long been happy to take advantage of the schools as a child-care service. But the non-educational amenities didn’t stop there. Middle-class parents especially have long  embraced the idea that billions of dollars spent on school music programs, school sports, and other extracurriculars were all absolutely essential to student success. Sports provided an important social function for both the students and the larger community.

But as the list of amenities we once associated with schooling gets shorter and shorter, households at all income levels will start to wonder what exactly they’re paying for.

Stripped of the non-academic side of things,  public schools now must sell themselves only as providers of academic skills. Many parents are likely to be left unimpressed, and this will be all the more true for middle class families where the parents are able to readily adopt homeschooling as a real substitute. The households that do have the infrastructure to do this are now far more likely to conclude that they simply don’t need the public schools much of the time. There are now so many resources provided for free outside the schools—such as Khan Academy, to just name one—that those who are already savvy with online informational resources will quickly understand that the schools aren’t essential.

In addition to this, many parents who were on autopilot in terms of assuming they were getting their money’s worth may suddenly be realizing that public schools—even when they were physically open—weren’t that much of a bargain after all…(continues)