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A Day in the Life of an American Serf

A Day in the Life of an American Serf

As another traditional April 15 tax day arrives, it reminds us once again of the financial burden and forced obligation the government places on our finances.

So, how heavy is the yoke of taxation?

We could throw around dollar amounts in the trillions, and break them down in many ways. But perhaps an even clearer picture of just how ever-present taxation is in our lives is to run down a typical day in the life of an American tax serf. (For the sake of brevity, this article won’t explore the horrific atrocities your tax dollars are used for, which has been well documented elsewhere.)

Your day starts with the sound of your alarm clock, for which you paid sales tax when you purchased it.

As you prepare for work, perhaps you help your children get ready for school; the government school that is funded by your property taxes—a tax you must pay even if you have no kids in government schools. Renters are not exempt either, because local property taxes would be levied on the owner of the building you live, which is typically passed along into your rent.

Furthermore, any notion of you truly being a “homeowner” is dispelled by the knowledge that you must pay this tax on your property, or your local government could take it from you. The government is your de facto landlord, thanks to their power to tax.

With the kids off to school, you hop in the car for which you paid a sales tax and registration fees to government, and set off for work. The roads, of course, are paid for primarily out of the tax you pay at the gas pump when you stop to fill up. Federal, state and local gas taxes add roughly 53 cents to every gallon you put in your tank (depending on which state you live).

Feeling thirsty and needing some caffeine, you pick up a Coke in the gas station’s mini-mart, for which you pay a ‘sin tax,’ a rate higher than the normal sales tax. So-called sin taxes are those levied on items like alcohol, cigarettes, and soda, and are one of the government’s way of trying to influence our behavior by more heavily taxing products they believe to be bad for us.

Once you are back on the road, you soon get stuck in a traffic jam. Traffic is made worse in no small part because roads and highways are mostly funded by taxes, and not by users at the point of use. Because the use of roads is free at the point of use (toll roads being a notable exception), there is no market mechanism for road use pricing to change according to demand. When demand surges during rush hour, there is no corollary surge in pricing to dampen demand, so instead drivers are imposed the added cost of long lines for use of the product, in the form of traffic jams.

The poor funding mechanism comes with a steep price tag. According to the 2020 Transportation Statistics Annual Report produced by the U.S. Department of Transportation, “Congestion cost urban Americans an extra 8.8 billion hours and an extra 3.3 billion gallons of fuel to travel, for a total congestion cost of $166 billion in 2017.”

Once you arrive at work, you realize that about 1/3 of the day will be spent working for the government, not yourself. Depending on your income bracket and state, this will vary of course, but nevertheless a sizeable part of your time and effort simply do not belong to you. They belong to the government, courtesy of the income tax.

In a perverse manner only the government could create, the more successful you are, the higher the rate of the penalty. The income tax is made worse still with the knowledge that it leaves you less money to pay all the other taxes you owe.

At the end of your work day, you get to head home, but need to stop to pick up a few groceries. At the store, you notice that grocery prices continue to trend higher. According to Barron’s, last year saw the largest year-over-year increase in grocery prices in a decade, and prices are expected to climb at a faster pace this year.

Rising prices can be attributed largely to mad money printing by the Federal Reserve, which erodes the purchasing power of the money already held by households. Economists consider this the “inflation tax,” and it harms low-income households disproportionately.

Making matters worse, the Fed needs to keep printing money to keep interest rates down, otherwise the nearly $30 trillion worth of national government debt becomes far more expensive to service, which requires higher taxes to finance.

Pay the inflation tax, or pay higher income taxes. What a choice.

Finally, after decades of days like these, if you are lucky enough to save up enough to pass down assets above a certain amount to you children, the government will tax those when you die.

Not exactly a Normal Rockwell portrayal of American life, is it? But so goes a day in the life in the ‘land of the free.’

Bradley Thomas is creator of the website Erasethestate.com and author of the book “Tweeting Liberty: Libertarian Tweets to Smash Statists and Socialists.” He is a libertarian activist who enjoys researching and writing on the freedom philosophy and Austrian economics. Follow him on Twitter @erasestate.

Veterans Group Condemns Extension of the War in Afghanistan

Veterans Group Condemns Extension of the War in Afghanistan

Yesterday BringOurTroopsHome.US, a veterans advocacy organization composed of former soldiers of the Global War on Terror and their civilian allies, condemned the Biden administration’s extension of the war in Afghanistan and the subversion of the Doha Agreement, damaging the credibility of the United States on the world stage and playing political football with the livelihoods of our soldiers.

When Joe Biden assumed office on January 20, the United States was already set on a course for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 1. The Biden administration has had over three months to prepare, a sufficient timeline for an orderly departure of men and equipment. The White House’s decision to wring its hands, procrastinate preparations, and to abrogate the Doha Agreement is a political decision made without regard to U.S. national security and the physical safety of our men and women stationed in Afghanistan.

“When I was informed that Joe Biden had decided to delay the Afghan withdrawal by over four months, to coincide with the twenty-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I knew he was playing fast and loose with American lives,” said Sgt. Dan McKnight, founder and Chairman of BringOurTroopsHome.US, who deployed for an eighteen-month combat tour in Afghanistan 2005-2007. “At the end of World War I, when the armistice was being negotiated, the politicians decided the fighting should officially end at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. They thought it was poetic. Meanwhile, between the hours when the armistice was agreed upon and when it was meant to take effect, thousands of more soldiers were killed in the fighting. Should they have died for literary repetition?”

“It has been over a year since the United States lost a soldier in Afghanistan. That is a result of the Trump administration’s negotiations with the Taliban, and the latter’s decision to halt direct attacks prior to our withdrawal,” continued McKnight. “With this violation of the Doha agreement, and the extension of our presence through the summer months—when violence is most prominent—President Biden is putting the safety of our brave servicemembers in mortal peril. If a single American is killed in Afghanistan between May 1 and September 12, the fault will fall squarely on the conscience of Joe Biden.”

Under these new, less fortunate parameters, BringOurTroopsHome.US will continue to advocate for a cessation of our endless wars and a full military withdrawal from America’s longest war. We agree with the sentiments given by Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), who said yesterday, “Despite it being months later than the May 1 request made by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and myself, this is the right move. We need to bring our troops home.”

Our organization does applaud the Biden administration for announcing that the new withdrawal date is not conditions-based, a poison pill measure previously used to ensure a permanent occupation. And BringOurTroopsHome.US stands opposed to the litany of war propogandists—including John Bolton, Bill Kristol of The Bulwark, and Max Boot of The Washington Post—and establishment Republicans—including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY)—whose respective pens and electoral campaigns are financed by the military-industrial complex to sell “forever war” to the American people.

In particular, we stand against the sentiment voiced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), whose advice, if followed, would place America on the path of permanent nation-building in the developing world. “Supporting Afghan women is a human rights imperative, and it also bolsters the stability of Afghanistan in any agreement. There can be no equivocation: Prioritizing women’s inclusion and rights in Afghanistan must be a U.S. foreign policy priority,” she said Monday.

BringOurTroopsHome.US maintains that the United States’ foreign policy priority must be protecting the safety of her soldiers, and ensuring the liberty of the American people. We believe in putting America first, and that does not mean exporting western standards of living into foreign nations at the cost of our lives, treasury, and attention. In 2010, then-Vice President Joe Biden shouted at Special Envoy for Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, “I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights, it just won’t work, that’s not what they’re there for.” Our organization is hopeful that a decade hence, now-President Biden feels the same way.

We join a supermajority of American veterans who look forward to the day when we bring our troops home permanently from Afghanistan, and will continue to expend our efforts to ensure that day arrives sooner than expected.

What Biden’s Nomination of a Waco Arsonist Portends For Americans’ Safety

What Biden’s Nomination of a Waco Arsonist Portends For Americans’ Safety

Last week, President Joe Biden nominated David Chipman to be head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the premier federal firearms enforcement agency. Biden complemented that announcement with a call for a national red flag law to entitle police to preemptively confiscate firearms from citizens suspected of being a threat to themselves or others.

Chipman was a 25-year ATF agent and a key official at the 1994 federal trial of the Branch Davidians who survived the ATF and FBI assaults the prior year. Many federal agents posed for grisly “victory photos” in the rubble of the Branch Davidians’ Waco, Texas, home after it burned to the ground during an FBI assault. One photo allegedly shows Chipman proudly holding a rifle in front of the wreckage where scores of children died shortly before. The White House and Chipman’s current employer, the antigun Giffords organization, did not respond to repeated email requests to confirm or deny that Chipman is the federal agent in that photo; the Daily Mail and many online sites have tagged Chipman as the agent. In a Reddit public question and answer session in 2019, Chipman sought to spur support for an assault weapons ban by falsely claiming that the Davidians shot down two federal helicopters that were attacking their compound.

Biden’s nomination of Chipman has thrust Waco back in the national spotlight. Millions of Americans permanently lost faith in the federal government after ATF and FBI attacks concluded with more than 80 civilians dead. But few Americans are aware of Biden’s role, first in helping cover up the debacle and later, after ample damning evidence had surfaced, exonerating federal law enforcement and instead blaming Americans who distrusted Washington. Biden’s behavior on Waco is a bad portent for anyone who expects federal agencies to be leashed during his reign.

Read the rest of this article at The American Conservative

Cops Enter Person’s Yard, Shoot 18 Week Old Puppy That ‘Couldn’t Even Bark Yet’

Cops Enter Person’s Yard, Shoot 18 Week Old Puppy That ‘Couldn’t Even Bark Yet’

Since Saturday night, Derek Brown and Julie-Barecki Brown have been morning the loss of their 18-week-old puppy named Apollo. Apollo didn’t die from being hit by a car or from medical complications, however, his life was taken from him by a member of New Orleans’ finest.

The couple told 4WWL they had gotten in a verbal argument the night a New Orleans police officer entered their yard and killed their puppy.

“Married couples do that,” Derek Brown said of the argument, adding that it shouldn’t have warranted a police response,” We weren’t drawing guns.”

Julie told the outlet she heard her gate open and just seconds later, she heard three gunshots. The couple’s puppy would be killed instantly.

“I ran out here, and the puppy was right there, writhing,” Brown said. “I feel responsible. It’s my job to protect that little guy.”

Two months before he was killed by police, the couple adopted their puppy from Marcus Gandy who fosters dogs who need a home.

“I have his brother here with me. They’re both small enough to carry under your arm,” Gandy said.

“Apollo and his mother arrived the day after the rest of the litter at the Trampled Rose Rescue & Rehab on the Northshore,” the program’s founder Holly Williams said.

“We actually took his mother and her 9 puppies into our rescue the day after they were born, Mama dog was so skinny you couldn’t tell she was pregnant,” Williams said. “Then popped out 9 incredibly tiny babies. Miraculously and thanks to the expert care of our vet, all of the puppies survived.”

“He was not at all a threat,” a friend of the couple, Jennifer Lee said. “He couldn’t even bark.”

“He’s the kind of dog that if he jumped on you, you wouldn’t even feel it,” Gandy said. “They killed a puppy.”

According to the couple, they had two dogs in the backyard and Apollo was the smallest as he was just a puppy. Their other dog weighs 65 pounds but apparently the officer felt more threatened by the harmless 18-week old puppy.

After police killed their puppy, they stayed at the couple’s home for four hours. Though police didn’t identify the officer who shot Apollo, Derek says it was easy to pick him out.

“It was obvious who the cop was that shot him because he was pretty distraught,” said Derek Brown, his voice breaking. “All he said was, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’”

Eventually, police left and took Apollo’s remains with them to conduct an investigation into the shooting. The couple has asked to get his ashes back when the investigation is complete.

“I know cops don’t have an easy job, they’re walking into crazy stuff all the time,” Derek Brown said. “But it sucks being on the receiving end of it.”

Indeed it does.

As TFTP has reported, while civilians are attempting to document the number of people killed by police officers per year (which tops around 1,200 annually), there’s no official number of family pets killed per year and it’s assumed that the number may be astronomical. After all, just as the Evangeline Parish officer claimed, the police only have to claim they were in fear and they can be legally justified in killing a family pet, regardless if the animal is being aggressive or not.

Rarely if ever do families sue, and even rarer still do they win in court when they try to receive compensation for emotional or actual damages when police kill family pets. Complicating matters for dog owners, as TFTP has reported, courts in the United States have sided with law enforcement on the issue of law enforcement’s right to kill animals in the line of duty.

In the land of the free, police can come onto your private property, gun your tiny dog down in broad daylight, and this is called ‘standard procedure.’ Well, it’s a damn good thing that postal workers, delivery truck drivers, pizza delivery drivers—and all the other jobs that require people to go to someone’s home and not kill their dog—don’t claim the same rights as cops, or family pets would probably be extinct.

Sadly, this trend shows no signs of slowing.

According to some estimates, as John Whitehead points out, a dog is shot by a police officer “every 98 minutes.”

The Department of Justice estimates that at least 25 dogs are killed by police every day.

The Puppycide Database Project estimates the number of dogs being killed by police could be upwards of 500 dogs a day

Because not all police departments keep track of canine shootings, these numbers vary widely. However, whatever the final body count, what we’re dealing with is an epidemic of vast proportions.

Incredibly, in 1 out of 5 cases involving police shooting a family pet, a child was either in the police line of fire or in the immediate area of a shooting.

The so-called “dangerous” breeds of dogs aren’t the only ones that are being killed in encounters with police either as this case and the one’s below illustrate.

Journalist Radley Balko has documented countless “dog shootings in which a police officer said he felt ‘threatened’ and had no choice but to use lethal force, including the killing of a Dalmatian (more than once), a yellow Lab , a springer spaniel, a chocolate Lab, a boxer, an Australian cattle dog, a Wheaten terrier, an Akita… a Jack Russell terrier… a 12-pound miniature dachshund… [and] a five-pound Chihuahua.”

To those who think cops killing dogs is not a problem, we encourage you to take a look through our puppycide archives here. 

This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

Paying Respects to Reese Erlich

Paying Respects to Reese Erlich

Longtime antiwar activist Reese Erlich passed away on April 6 after a long battle with cancer. He was 73.

Reese was most recently a bi-weekly columnist at a number of publications, including Antiwar.com. He wrote his last column two weeks ago saying goodbye to his friends and readers.

I met Reese in 1980 when we worked together in the Bay Area Mobilization Against Militarism and the Draft.

Reese was arrested in 1969 as part of the “Oakland Seven,” for organizing anti-draft demonstrations. His arrest and trial (resulting in his acquittal) are the subject of a documentary,
Movement on Trial: The Oakland Seven.

Reese worked as a staff writer and research editor for Ramparts, a national investigative reporting magazine published in San Francisco. His magazine articles appeared in Vanity Fair online, San Francisco MagazineCalifornia MonthlyMother JonesThe ProgressiveThe Nation, and AARP’s Segunda Juventud.

Erlich’s book Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You, co-authored with Norman Solomon, became a best seller in 2003. His book The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis was published in October 2007 with a foreword by Robert Scheer. In a San Francisco Chronicle book review, Ruth Rosen wrote, “Some people are treated as pariahs when they tell the truth; later, history lauds them for their courage and convictions. Reese Erlich is one of those truth tellers.”

Reese also published Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba in 2009, Inside Syria: the Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect in 2014, and The Iran Agenda Today: the Real Story from Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with U.S. Policy in 2018.

Reese worked with Walter Cronkite on four public radio documentaries. Cronkite has written, “Reese Erlich is a great radio producer and a great friend.”

His passing is a great loss to the antiwar movement. He will be missed.

This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.

Unprecedented: Maryland Repeals Blue Privilege

Unprecedented: Maryland Repeals Blue Privilege

For decades, Maryland and dozens of other states across the union have upheld a special set of rights for cops which citizens do not get to enjoy. It was called the police bill of rights and it shielded cops from accountability by blocking civilian inquiries into misconduct on the force and erasing records of complaints filed against officers after a period of time. But this special privilege and above the law status is no longer.

According to the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, the special rights enjoyed by police in the state are vast. They include:

  • Generous protections during the investigation of misconduct
  • Limits on what discipline can be imposed for certain infractions
  • Strict time limits on alleging a complaint, including for police brutality.
  • Allowing only other law enforcement officers to investigate misconduct
  • Allowing a delay before questioning an officer about misconduct
  • Expungement of disciplinary records

“As a result, only a very small percentage of complaints actually result in discipline. At the very least, we must know that law enforcement agencies are taking police discipline seriously, and not protecting officers who engage in misconduct,” the group wrote in a statement.

A battle to remove this blue privilege in Maryland has been brutal and came to a head on Friday when Governor Larry Hogan vetoed legislation that was set to end the police bill of rights. The governor vetoed three of the five bills in the police accountability package, claiming the legislation would be devastating to police recruitment and public confidence.

“These bills would undermine the goal that I believe we share of building transparent, accountable, and effective law enforcement institutions and instead further erode police morale, community relationships, and public confidence,” Hogan said in a statement. “They will result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety throughout our state.”

If people quit being cops because they will actually have to be held accountable for violating a citizen’s rights, this is a good thing, However, police state proponents like Hogan keep screaming it from the rooftops as a reason not to follow through with police reform measures.

Because they held no water, Hogan’s vetoes fell on the battleground Saturday when the state legislature voted to override all three vetoes and Maryland became the first state in the country to end the police bill of rights.

On top of holding officers accountable for their actions, the legislation also revamps the process for no-knock warrants forcing officers to apply for approval by a supervisor and the State’s Attorney and between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., outside of “exigent circumstances.”

Police officers are now also required to use force only if it is “necessary and proportional” to the situation. The new legislation states that such force can only be used to halt “an imminent threat of physical injury” or to “effectuate a legitimate law enforcement objective.” If an officer has been found to use excessive force, they can now be subject to a criminal penalty. The training and use-of-force limits begin in July of next year, while body cameras will be statewide by July 2025, according to a report from the Intelligencer.

The new legislation also opens up the police disciplinary process to civilians by establishing local administrative charging committees which will recommend what sort of internal discipline a cop should face.

Previously, officers’ discipline records have been shielded from public scrutiny as well but thanks to this new legislation, bad cops can no longer hide their records from the citizens they serve.

“Maryland is leading the country in transforming our broken policing system,” Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones wrote in a tweet Saturday. “Now, for the first time in our nation’s history, the rights of officers will not be held above the rights of individuals, and policing in Maryland will be transparent and citizen-centered.”

Hopefully, this legislation leads to real change and states across the country stop treating cops like a protected class that can lay waste to rights with impunity.

This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

The Constitutional Revolution of 1937 (Or, the Irrespresible Myth of a Political Judiciary)

The Constitutional Revolution of 1937 (Or, the Irrespresible Myth of a Political Judiciary)

Have you ever wondered how the Supreme Court came to be seen as a distinctly political body, despite its clear constitutional role to be expressly non-political? There has certainly been a political ebb and flow on the Court over time. When a liberal president gets elected they tend to appoint liberal justices to the bench and the Supreme Court moves in a liberal direction. Likewise, when a conservative president gets elected they tend to appoint more conservative justices to the bench and the Supreme Court still moves in a more liberal direction.

Moreover, why do our friends on the left see politicized court packing as the solution to an as yet unidentified problem (following Trump sitting three justices in four years)? To understand how this came to be, and how a political judiciary came to be seen as an improvement (by some) compared with its original, limited role, we must trace it back to a grossly misunderstood event known as the Constitutional Revolution of 1937.

As with so many terrible things this story begins with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After his election as president in 1932, his New Deal policies aimed to reform the entire American economy. During Roosevelt’s first and second terms in office the Supreme Court radically altered how it reviewed regulations of economic liberty. However, even to this day many lawyers do not know why and when this change occurred.

In February 1930 Chief Justice William Howard Taft resign from the Supreme Court due to illness. One month later, Justice Edward Terry Sanford suddenly passed away. President Herbert Hoover nominated Charles Evan Hughes and Owen Roberts to fill the two vacancies. Though a Republican, Hoover was a political progressive and his two appointment began to shift the court to the left.

Justice Roberts made an immediate impact on the Court in O’Gorman & Young vs Hartford Fire Insurance Company. Under New Jersey law, commissions on the sale of fire insurance policies are required to be reasonable. The O’Gorman firm sold Hartford fire insurance policies with a contract providing that the commissions would be priced at what such services were reasonably worth. O’Gorman asserted that its commission was reasonably worth 25% of the insurance premiums. Hartford however only paid a 20% commission. O’Gorman filed suit for breach of contract. The trial court found that under New Jersey law a 25% commission was unreasonable and could not be paid.

O’Gorman appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The firm argued that the regulation deprived the company of property—the extra commission—without the due process of law. In April 1930 the Court heard oral arguments when there were only eight justices on the bench. Apparently the court split 4-4 on whether the regulation was constitutional. Three weeks later Owen Roberts was confirmed. O’Gorman was re-argued the following term. And at that time Justice Roberts cast the fifth and deciding vote to uphold the statute.

Past Supreme Court precedent, including Lochner v New York (1905), recognized that the Fourteenth Amendment protected the liberty of contract. That right generally prohibited price regulations. But there was an exception to the general rule; legislators could set prices for a business affected with a public interest. Originally this category was limited to businesses with some kind of monopoly share of market power. But eventually the Supreme Court expanded the category to include any business the state wanted to regulate.

Justice Louis Brandeis wrote the majority opinion in O’Gorman. He found that the business of insurance is so far affected with a public interest that the state may regulate the rate and limit commissions to avoid the evils of an unreasonably high rate level. Therefore the New Jersey statute is clearly within the scope of the police power. Justice Brandeis explained that lower courts must presume the law is constitutional unless there is a factual foundation suggesting that the provision was not an appropriate remedy for the evils in the insurance industry. Nothing on the face of the New Jersey statute or the facts of the case, Brandeis wrote, could rebut this presumption of constitutionality. Therefore the regulation was reasonable.

Justice Willis Van Devanter wrote a dissent joined by Justices George Sutherland, Pierce Butler, and James Clark McReynolds. While the majority presumed the law was constitutional, the dissent required the government to justify why the law is necessary. Justice Van Devanter’s dissent offered the following test: the state could deny O’Gorman the right to make private contracts only if some special circumstances exist that are sufficient to indicate the necessity of a statute to eliminate evils in the marketplace. The key word is necessity.

Three years after O’Gorman was decided the Court considered another economic liberty case, Nebbia v. New York. The state of New York fixed the price of milk at 9 cents per quart. This law which was designed to help dairy farmers raise milk prices for everyone, including the poor. The biggest beneficiaries of the law however were large firms that delivered milk directly to homes. Their prices could be undercut by small mom-and-pop stores that did not incur delivery cost. In this way the minimum price for milk protected the profits of large milk distributors.

Grocer Leo Nebbia offered his customers a special deal to get around the New York law. If a customer bought two quarts of milk at the regulated price of $0.09 each—for a total of $0.18—Nebbia would throw in a free loaf of Italian bread which was worth $0.05. With this deal customers received $0.23 of groceries for only $0.18. New York charged Nebbia with violating the price control law, and convicted him of offering his customers a discount. He was sentenced to pay a criminal fine.

Nebbia argued that the law deprived him of liberty and property without the due process of law. The Court rejected his argument in a 5-4 decision. Once again, Justice Roberts was the swing vote, this time authoring the majority opinion. First he wrote that states can regulate businesses affected with a public interest. That category now included even the corner grocery store. As a result the state has the police power to fix the prices to be charged for the products or commodities that the store sells.

Second, the Court reviewed the New York law with the presumption of constitutionality that was articulated in O’Gorman. Under this approach the state was free to adopt whatever policy may reasonably be deemed to promote public welfare. The requirements of due process were satisfied, Justice Roberts observed, if the law had a reasonable relation to a proper legislative purpose and was neither arbitrary nor discriminatory. It was not the courts role to determine if the rule was unwise.

Third, the Court considered how the law accomplished its purpose; that is, the relationship between the means and the ends. What evils was the government trying to address? In this instance, ruthless competition from destroying the wholesale price structure on which the farmer depends for his livelihood. The Court concluded that the price control law was not unreasonable or arbitrary and it had a relation to this purpose. Therefore, Nebbia’s conviction was proper.

As they had in O’Gorman, Justices Van Devanter, Sutherland, Butler, and McReynolds dissented together. And as you know, the O’Gorman quartet rejected the presumption of constitutionality. In his dissent Justice McReynolds observed that the stated purpose of the New York law was to increase milk prices at the farm. Yet the milk distributors were not required to share their increased revenue with dairy farmers. For this reason he questioned whether the means adopted—being the price controls—bore a reasonable relation to the stated purpose of assisting dairy farmers. Justice McReynolds did not assess the legislator’s motives directly. Instead he concluded that the law was arbitrary because the means adopted did not fit the purported ends of the legislation. In other words, the law seemed to be designed to protect large milk distributors from competition rather than to help farmers.

Between 1931 and 1937 Justices Van Devanter, Sutherland, Butler, and McReynolds consistently voted as a block to declare progressive federal and state legislation unconstitutional. This conservative quartet was dubbed by their critics as “Four Horsemen,” an allusion to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. During the same period, Justice Roberts was often the swing vote. In some cases he would join the Four Forsemen to give the conservatives a majority, and in other cases like O’Gorman and Nebbia he voted to uphold progressive legislation. In our next case, West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, Justice Roberts would once again join the liberal bloc.

Washington State had imposed a minimum wage for women and children but not for men. Elsie Parrish worked as a chambermaid at the West Coast Hotel in Wenatchee, Washington. Her employer failed to pay her the minimum wage and she filed suit to recover back pay. The hotel’s owner argued that the labor regulation deprived him of the liberty of contract without due process of law.

Over the previous three decades the Supreme Court had decided several cases concerning economic liberty for women. In Muller v. Oregon (1908) the Court upheld a law that limited the hours women could work. It was deemed reasonable because of the physical differences between the two genders. However, fifteen years later in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923), the Court declared unconstitutional a minimum wage law for women, ruling that the federal statute violated the liberty of contract protected by the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. Thirteen years later in Morehead v. New York (1936) the Court reaffirmed Adkins. That 5-4 decision found that New York’s minimum wage law for women was unconstitutional, with Justice Roberts joining the Four Horsemen. Critically, however, in Morehead the Court was not asked to overrule Adkins.

But in West Coast Hotel Co v. Parrish, the plaintiff had asked the Court to expressly overrule Adkins. And by a 5-4 decision the Court did exactly that. Justice Roberts once again cast the deciding vote. Chief Justice Hughes, the other Hoover appointee, wrote the majority opinion. He explained that Adkins, decided only thirteen years earlier, was a departure from the true application of the principles governing the regulations by the state between employers and employees. Furthermore, cases decided since Adkins (including O’Gorman and Nebbia) applied those principles properly through the presumption of constitutionality. Chief justice Hughes could not reconcile Adkins with O’Gorman and Nebbia, therefore the court overruled the former.

With Adkins out of the way it was easy for the Court to uphold Washington’s minimum wage law. “If the protection of women is a legitimate end of the exercise of state power,” Chief Justice Hughes asked, “how can it be said that the requirement of the payment of a minimum wage, fairly fixed in order to meet the very necessities of existence is not an admissible means to that end?” He added, even if the wisdom of the policy was debatable and its effects uncertain, the legislature is still entitled to its judgment. This deference is especially appropriate, the majority noted, in light of the unparalleled demand for relief which arose during the recent period of depression. Therefore the law did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

For one of the last times, the Four Horsemen dissented together. Justice Sutherland, who wrote the Atkins majority opinion, also wrote the West Coast dissent, questioning the presumption of constitutionality. The dissent explained that a judge has an independent duty to make up his own mind and judge accordingly whether a law is constitutional. A deferential judge who automatically accept the views of others, he lamented, has surrendered his deliberate judgment.

Justin Sutherland further contended that the Court should not base its ruling on the exigencies of the Great Depression. The meaning of the Constitution as stated does not change with the ebb and flow of economic events. Rather, he added the words of the Constitution must mean today what they meant when they were written. A contrary rule would rob that instrument of the essential element which continues it in force.

Finally, Justice Sutherland attacked the law because it imposed a minimum wage for women but not for men. As a senator from Utha, Sutherland had supported the Nineteenth Amendment and women’s suffrage. In his dissent, he stated:

There is no longer any reason why they should be put in different classes in respect of their legal right to make contracts; nor should they be denied, in effect, the right to compete with men for work paying lower wages which men may be willing to accept. And it is an arbitrary exercise of the legislative power to do so.

On March 29, 1937, Justice Roberts joined the majority opinion in West Coast Hotel which overruled Adkins; however, only nine months earlier in Morehead Justice Roberts had agreed with the Four Horsemen that, in light of Adkins, New York’s minimum wage law for women was unconstitutional. How can we explain his change in position?

Four generations of law school students have learned that Justice Roberts changed his vote in response to President Franklin Roosevelt’s proposal to expand the size of the Supreme Court. On March 9, three weeks before the decision in West Coast Hotel was announced, President Roosevelt released his so-called court-packing plan. He explained:

Whenever a judge or justice of any federal court has reached the age of 70 and does not avail himself of the opportunity to retire on a pension a new member should be appointed by the president then in office with the approval as required by the Constitution of the Senate of the United States.

The size of the Supreme Court is not specified in the Constitution and has always been set by Congress. The number of justices has varied from as few as six to as many as ten. President Roosevelt was not concerned with the age or the workload of the Court; rather he was frustrated that conservative justices had declared unconstitutional federal and state progressive legislation. President Roosevelt called upon Congress to change the size of the Court for a very specific purpose of appointing new justices who were more amenable to his New Deal policy agenda and his vision of the Constitution.

Three weeks after the president’s announcement, West Coast Hotel was decided with Justice Roberts in the majority. His apparent reversal from Morehead created the appearance that the court-packing proposal influenced his decision. According to what has been the conventional narrative, Justice Roberts voted to uphold Washington’s minimum wage law in order to remove the incentives for President Roosevelt to pack the Supreme Court. Since that day Justice Roberts’ vote has been hailed as the so-called “Switch In Time That Saved Nine,a play on the folksy aphorism that a stitch in time saves nine. In other words, if you mend a hole now you won’t need to mend a bigger hole later.

However, the conventional narrative that Justice Roberts changed his vote in response to the court-packing plan has been called into question. In December 1936, several of the justices recorded the votes cast at a private conference based upon the records in the docket books—we know that Justice Roberts voted to join the majority nearly three months before Roosevelt announced his court-packing plan.

There is a far more mundane explanation for Justice Roberts’ switch. In Morehead the Court was not asked to overrule Adkins. However, Elsie Parrish did make the request. And so it answered, relying on prior decisions Roberts had joined like O’Gorman and Nebbia.

Why does this history matter? According to the conventional narrative, Justice Roberts changed course for political reasons. Therefore the argument goes that the Supreme Court works as an inherently political institution. And because the conventional narrative applauds the switch in time, having a seemingly political Supreme Court is a good thing.

The actual history instead reveals how politics played a different, more subtle role.

President Herbert Hoover, a political progressive, appointed two progressives to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Hughes and Justice Roberts. These appointments unsurprisingly moved the court in a progressive direction. Hughes and Roberts simply had different judicial philosophies about the Constitution than those held by the more conservative justices who comprised the Four Horsemen, previously appointed by more conservative presidents.

In this way, popular elections—not intimidation by political actors—changed the constitutional balance of the Supreme Court. The political process by which justices are selected allows for a justice with one principled vision of the Constitution to be replaced by a justice holding a different vision. West Coast Hotel was a byproduct of Herbert Hoover appointing two progressive justices in 1931—not President Roosevelt’s partisan tactics in 1937.

West Coast Hotel marked the commencement of what has come to be known as the Constitutional Revolution of 1937. Whenever and however it happened, there is no dispute that a constitutional sea change did occur. Recall that during the same period the Supreme Court also approved a vast expansion of Congress’ powers under the Commerce and Necessary and Proper clauses.

During his twelve years in office President Roosevelt made nine Supreme Court nominations. By 1943, during Roosevelt’s unprecedented third term, he had replaced all but one member of the once conservative court. Starting with O’Gorman in 1931, the New Deal era had revolutionized the public outlook on the Court and its role.

At the start, the presumption of constitutionality in O’Gorman, Nebbia, and West Coast Hotel was rebuttable. It was still feasible for a plaintiff to challenge the constitutionality of a law that restricted economic liberty. This history plays a big role in the expansion of implied powers under the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses. Here, they could present evidence showing that the restriction was arbitrary. Eventually, however, the Warren Court would make the presumption of constitutionality irrefutable. And with that, the constitutional revolution was completed.

Bob Fiedler is a constitutinoal law scholar and legal commentator from the Twin Cities and AM host of the “Categorical Imperatives Podcast” where he discuss current events in law, politics & culture from the perspective of a constitutional lawyer and a libertarian moral philosophy.

Looking Towards a Productive, Robotic Future

Looking Towards a Productive, Robotic Future

One argument against the idea of technological unemployment, offered by many people who today sincerely style themselves as leading defenders of the free market, goes that automation will create more jobs than it destroys but due to the nature of the market, the nature of those jobs is, if not fundamentally unknowable, functionally indescribable for the purposes of the argument over automation. How could a person a hundred years ago, the reasoning goes, predict the existence of jobs like “app developer,” “nuclear engineer,” or “diversity and inclusion consultant”? The jobs of the future will be just as foreign to us as our jobs would be to those of the past, and we do not lament the world’s present paucity of candlestick makers and buggy whip manufacturers. While these people are more correct than their opponents, It must be acknowledged that this argument for the market is so thoroughly uncompelling that you might think it was originally concocted by its enemies. One may as well say that after automation, we will all get well-paying jobs with vacations, pension, and so forth once we enter the New Jerusalem, or after we achieve full communism. In fact, far from being unknowable, the types of jobs created by automation are highly categorically predictable. Automation in the production of higher-order goods directly creates jobs in producing lower-order goods that require those same higher-order goods as inputs. Automation in the production of consumer goods both increases living standards and makes human laborers more price competitive relative to machines.

When a firm or industry is automated, jobs will be created in precisely those industries which use, as a factor input, the good or service whose production has recently been automated. This is the case regardless of the specificity of the input. For example, if there is a breakthrough in the production of semiconductors, more computers can and will be made, whether by existing firms or by new, increasingly niche ones. Likewise with electricity itself. Cheaper electricity means that nearly every firm on the grid faces reduced operating costs. Firms that otherwise would have been unprofitable suddenly become profitable, able to be brought into being by a sufficiently alert entrepreneur. The first place a recently replaced worker should look for work is at his previous employer’s client firms. In economic terms, he should attempt to shift to producing a lower-order good in the same supply chain.

Consider a world in which a full half of working men are employed mining for coal, which provides most of the world’s electricity. One day, a nuclear power plant goes online, more than doubling the nation’s energy production and selling its power at an order of magnitude below the previous price. The plant only employs a couple dozen engineers. Over the course of a year, a supermajority of coal plants and mines shut down, and a mere fraction of the coal miners shift over to mining and transporting uranium, which has over 150,000 times the energy density. Just as it is obvious to any observer that society has plainly been made better off through the proliferation of affordable, emissions-free electricity, it should also be intuitively clear to all but the most stubborn of antifuturists that the loss in jobs amounts to little more than a speed bump in the economic lives of the newly unemployed coal miners. This is because electricity is a factor input in nearly all lines of production in any modern economy. Cheap electricity creates jobs, because it makes previously outlandishly expensive projects suddenly potentially profitable.

Importantly, the productive opportunities created will always exceed the amount destroyed, because technology is only ever adopted, in market economies, when it is profitable to do so. More wealth is created than is consumed, and so there are more resources to be combined in potentially productive ways by any entrepreneur who detects the opportunity. Unprofitable technologies, for readers wondering, are usually adopted when countries are attempting to pursue a policy of import substitution. For example, Nazi Germany’s prewar attempts to wean firms off their dependence on imported oil by forcing companies to use an ersatz oil made of liquified coal. Another example would be American subsidization of “renewable” energy sources like wind and solar.

But what about automating the production of the lowest-order goods, a.k.a. consumer goods? Surely jobs automated out of the yo-yo factory are essentially gone forever, since no businesses, aside toy stores, will see their expenses fall thanks to a reduction in the price of children’s toys. This is correct. However, it is important to remember that consumer goods are a factor input in the production of labor, and labor is a factor input in the production of everything that hasn’t been automated. People are, in terms of opportunity cost, now cheaper than new machines, which produces yet more firms willing to hire them. The automation in the production of pure consumer goods, to the extent that there are such things, represents real wage increases, or an increase in the standard of living, for everybody else in the society.

In other words, automating the production of yo-yos makes all human workers marginally more price competitive relative to machines in other industries, by decreasing the cost of living. Here it is also important to remember that consumption does not create jobs; savings do. If consumers spend less on toys and stow the rest at the bank, this is not in any way a waste. That money enters the loanable funds market. Toys are cheaper, parents have more disposable income, which is more money to put in the bank. More savings lower the natural interest rate, making that money available to spend on other goods and services, in either case raising the demand for labor. Where the decreasing cost of living improves the relative standing of humans in comparison to machines, increased investment raises the total demand for labor, whether in human or robot form.

Importantly, this logic applies to all service sector employment. Among non-Austrians who concede the net positive consumer effects of automation in the past, the service sector is conceived as something of an “employer of last resort.” But, they argue, what happens when waitresses, doctors, garbagemen, secretaries, bankers, lawyers, and economists are also automated? For the survivors of this imagined labor market decimation, this will be an age of unparalleled material prosperity, but what about for everyone else? Will I change my tune then?

One cannot “run out” of job openings, even in the service sector, in a growing economy, no matter how many robots are made and sold. All entrepreneurship in the service sector represents a cost-of-living decrease, or real wage increase, for anybody who consumes the service. Automation of service sector jobs, assuming it is caused by market conditions, will always improve the competitiveness of human labor relative to robotic, and this increase in available resources will raise the number of potentially profitable ventures at every stage of production, increasing demand for labor in all of its forms.

Finally, I should emphasize that this seemingly flawless process I describe is the process of economic development. It seems too good to be true, but it isn’t, and in the end we know it is true because some countries are richer than others by orders of magnitude and people from poor countries risk their lives just to live off the scraps of rich ones. Technology improves living standards, because all development that can be appropriately called development is made with an eye toward final use by consumers.

This should not be taken to mean that all automation is worthwhile. Automation, like any other entrepreneurial process, is useful and good only to the extent that it efficiently allocates resources to satisfy consumer ends. The only way to know if this is actually the case for a given technology is the market test of profit and loss. There are plenty of ways for the government to force or push the adoption of a technology. One of the most obvious is through the introduction of a minimum wage causing the replacement of human labor with self-serve kiosks. Different forms of regulation and subsidy can deform price signals such that more valued resources are squandered in the development and deployment of a technology than were produced or saved through its implementation.

When one encounters something one does not understand, one should not fear it, but neither should one begin to mystify it. And many defenders of technological growth do mystify that which they appear not to understand when they advance arguments involving “fundamentally unknowable” gains from technology. But these gains, categorically, are knowable. Technology creates productive opportunities “downstream” of its deployment. Those opportunities are not, and can never be, entirely taken up by more robots, because machines’ very existence as goods in a market economy increases the capabilities and competitiveness of humans.

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

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