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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Growth of the State and the Decline of Local Powers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Local Allegiance and Local Customs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to George Watson,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richardson Light Guard of Wakefield, MA

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

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

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

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

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

The Local Militias of the Nineteenth Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.