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Should Libertarians Compromise with Taxing Marijuana?

Should Libertarians Compromise with Taxing Marijuana?

Marijuana freedom is a good thing. The taxation of marijuana is a bad thing. Unfortunately, owing to the greed of spendthrift politicians, it looks as though we will have to take the good with the bad or not at all.

Now, this does not mean that smoking marijuana is “good.” It just means that the freedom to smoke marijuana — and be responsible for any negative consequences that may come with it — is a good thing.

On the federal level, a bill (H.R.3884) to decriminalize marijuana that would have removed “marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act” and eliminated “criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana” languished in the U.S. House of Representatives for a year and a half before it finally passed on party lines at the end of 2019. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019, which was never voted on in the Senate, would also have imposed a 5 percent federal tax on cannabis products.

On the state level, although there are thirty-five states where the medical use of marijuana is legal, there are only fourteen states (plus the territories of the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam) where the recreational use of marijuana is legal: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

Make that seventeen.

The legislatures in New York, New Mexico, and Virginia recently passed bills to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. That is unusual because the path to marijuana legalization in most states has been ballot initiatives.

In Virginia, the legislature last month passed HB 2312. The governor recommended an amended version of the bill, to which the legislature then agreed by an even greater margin than it did to the initial bill. I wrote about the efforts to legalize marijuana in Virginia last month.

Unfortunately, the marijuana legalization legislation comes with a 21 percent excise tax on marijuana in addition to the state’s 5.3 percent sales tax. Local municipalities are also allowed to add an extra 3 percent tax.

In New Mexico, the legislature on March 31 passed the “Cannabis Regulation Act” by a vote of 22-15 in the Senate and 38-32 in the House, which then concurred with the senate amendments. The majority of Republicans voted against the bill, which the Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed into law on April 12. The measure allows:

  • the possession of a maximum of two ounces of marijuana, 16 grams of concentrated marijuana, and 800 milligrams of edible cannabis.
  • each person to grow a maximum of six mature and six immature marijuana plants, with a limit of 12 mature plants per household.
  • local governments to pass laws regulating certain commercial activity and density.

The legislation establishes a Cannabis Control Division to regulate and license commercial marijuana activity, which can begin no later than April 1, 2022.

The governor also signed into law a companion bill to provide for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions for activities made legal by the marijuana legalization bill. She praised the bills, “saying they would bolster the economy and help those who have been harmed by the ‘country’s failed war on drugs.’”

Unfortunately, the legislation also taxes marijuana sales at a rate of 12 percent through July 1, 2025, which increases annually by one percentage point until it reaches 18 percent in 2030. One-third of the revenue will go to the city in which the sale occurred, one-third to the county, and the other third will be distributed by future legislation.

In New York, the legislature on March 30 passed the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” by a vote of 40-23 in the senate and 100-49 in the House. Again, the majority of Republicans voted against the bill, which the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed into law on March 31. The measure:

  • allows possession of a maximum of three ounces of marijuana.
  • allows each person to grow a maximum of three mature marijuana plants with a cap of six mature plants per household.
  • creates expungement and resentencing processes for anyone convicted on a charge that is no longer a crime under the new law.
  • allows for cities, towns, and villages to pass local laws prohibiting certain retail establishments and regulating certain aspects of their operation.
  • contains a process for local voters to overturn local legislation banning recreational marijuana retail.
  • establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to license and regulate recreational marijuana retail and distribution. State officials estimate legal recreational marijuana sales will begin in 18 months to two years.

According to the New York Times,

There will be licenses for distributors who would sell cannabis wholesale to retailers, including dispensaries where individuals will be able to buy cannabis products and “consumption sites” where people will be allowed to smoke or ingest the products.

The tiered system of licenses is meant to create a division among those who produce, wholesale and retail the products, like in the alcohol market. Most businesses would only be allowed to have one type of license to avoid a few players from consolidating the entire market.

Half of business licenses are supposed to be issued to “social equity applicants”; that is, “people from communities with high rates of marijuana enforcement, as well as businesses owned by women and minorities, distressed farmers and disabled veterans.” Priority will be given “to applicants who have a marijuana-related conviction, or a close relative with such a conviction.”

Unfortunately, the legislation also institutes a 13 percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales and enacts a tax ranging from $0.03 to $0.08 per milligram of THC for wholesale to dispensaries. Forty percent of the tax revenue from marijuana sales will be steered to communities “where Black and Latino people have been arrested on marijuana charges in disproportionate numbers.” The new law is expected “to eventually generate $350 million in yearly tax revenue” and create new businesses and thousands of new jobs.

Although libertarians oppose tax increases of any kind, opposing these imperfect marijuana legalization bills is a textbook case of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Clearly, marijuana should be legalized, but not taxed. The reality, however, is that state legislators, just like members of Congress, because they have an insatiable desire to spend the taxpayers’ money, are simply not going to legalize marijuana without taxing it. It is just not going to happen.

Just look at the taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

The federal tax on alcohol is $18 per barrel for beer, $1.07 per gallon for wine, and $13.50 per gallon for distilled spirits. The federal government collects approximately $1 billion per month from these taxes. The federal tax on cigarettes is $1.01 per pack.

Each state then levies its own taxes on alcohol and tobacco. In Washington State, distilled spirits are subject to a $32.52 per gallon tax. In New York State, the tax on cigarettes is $4.35 per pack.

It is unfortunate that Americans must take the freedom to use alcohol and tobacco (the good) with taxes on alcohol and tobacco (the bad), but that’s just the way it is. Why would anyone think that marijuana would be any different? It shouldn’t be the case, but that’s just the way it is.

Would any users of alcohol and tobacco say that they would rather have them to be illegal than to pay taxes on them? Of course not. So again, why would anyone think that marijuana would be any different?

State legislators should be voting to legalize marijuana because of their respect for individual liberty, property rights, the free market, and limited government. There may be a handful of exceptions, but when have state legislators ever voted for or against anything strictly on the basis of those things? I think the best we can hope for, in today’s political climate, is for marijuana to be treated by government just as alcohol and tobacco are: regulated and taxed. Libertarians should, of course, strive to reduce those regulations and taxes just as they should currently strive to reduce regulations and taxes on alcohol and tobacco. But waiting for the ideal marijuana legalization bill or ballot initiative means that marijuana legalization will never happen.

In a free society, we would not have to take the good with the bad. But since we don’t live in a free society, it appears that taxes are the price we have to pay for marijuana legalization.

This article was originally featured at the Future of Freedom Foundation and is republished with permission.

Cop Walks Up, Sucker Punches Random Teen

Cop Walks Up, Sucker Punches Random Teen

On the day he was attacked by those he has been told are their for his protection, high school sophomore, Carlos Rodriguez had committed no crime, was not suspected of committing a crime, and was simply being a kid. However, his innocent, compliance with officer orders, and his young age were no defense against the brutal and despicable actions of Harris County sheriff’s deputy Bert Dillow.

The incident originally took place on March 26 and despite video evidence capturing the unprovoked assault on a child, Dillow remained a deputy for over a month and was only just fired last week. He has yet to face any charges.

Video of the incident was published by the immigrant civil rights group FIEL last week, who issued the following statement:

We are deeply troubled by the events we have witnessed on the chilling video. And there are more questions than answers after seeing the video. What led to the sheriff acting so violently? Why was Carlos targeted to begin with? And why is this officer still in law enforcement, when we have seen that he has been involved in other ‘incidents’ with people of color. We want answers for our community and the Rodriguez Family who after this violent encounter have been left fearing for their son. No young child should be treated and intimidated in this manner. We are tired of seeing incidents like this and we must do everything in our power to make sure that these events don’t happen to anyone else. Our community deserves answers, our families deserve answers, and most importantly Carlos deserves answers.

As the video shows, Rodriguez is sitting on an ATV at a gas pump when Dillow walks out of the gas station with a coffee in his hand. For some reason, Dillow targets the teen and begins verbally berating him and demanding his identification.

Rodriguez fully complies and gives the officer his ID but this wasn’t enough. Dillow begins manhandling the skinny teenager, who was half his size, and when Rodriguez steps away to avoid being hurt by the officer, all hell breaks loose.

“Don’t run from me, boy. I’ll beat your f**king a** right here,” Dillow says as he grabs Rodriguez by the shirt. “Turn around and put your hands behind your back before I beat the s**t out of you.”

“Don’t be f**king stupid,” Dillow yells as he cocks back his arm and delivers a haymaker punch to the child’s face, sending Rodriguez crashing to the ground and fulfilling his promise to “beat the sh*t out” of the teenager.

The massive cop then positions his 300 pound body on top of the teen in an effort to dish out several more punches to his head.

“All I was gonna do is talk to you, but now you’re f**ked,” Dillow said.

After the violent and unnecessary arrest, Dillow was originally placed on desk duty and for nearly 5 weeks the department “investigated” his actions. Amazingly enough, his firing didn’t come until after the video was released publicly.

In a statement over the weekend, the sheriff’s office announced their decision:

Deputy Bert Dillow was terminated on April 28 following an Internal Affairs Division investigation into a video posted on social media that showed a use-of-force incident involving a juvenile male. The investigation began March 29 and Deputy Dillow was placed on administrative duty on April 1.

The Sheriff’s Office Administrative Discipline Committee reviewed the investigation’s findings and determined policies regarding the following activities were violated: Conduct Prohibited, De-Escalation and Response to Resistance (Use of Force), and Reports.

Dillow can, and likely will, appeal his termination as per the Sheriff’s Civil Service procedures.

As you watch the video below, imagine for a moment that the person attacking an innocent child was anyone but a cop. Had an angry civilian walked up to a child at the gas station and began beating the hell out of him, that person would be sitting in jail. But because Dillow—who has a history of excessive force—had police officer status, he has yet to be charged with a crime.

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

2021 Will Decide the Future of Military Conscription

2021 Will Decide the Future of Military Conscription

The coming year could bring a major milestone to America’s fitful relationship with the military draft: The Supreme Court may declare male-only draft registration unconstitutional, while Congress could either expand registration to women or end it altogether.

Out of respect for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Congress should choose the latter option.

Though it’s been almost a half-century since the last citizen was drafted into military service, the Military Selective Service Act continues requiring men to register upon reaching age 18, and to notify the Selective Service of address changes until age 26. The federal government makes registration a prerequisite for certain benefits, and 41 states incorporate registration into driver licensing.

The Selective Service says 92% of draft-eligible men are registered. With 17 million names in the system today, that compliance rate implies 1.5 million men have failed to register. That’s a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison, but no one has been prosecuted for it since 1986.

Meanwhile, the value of registration is itself undercut by low compliance with the requirement to notify the Selective Service of address changes. A 1982 General Accounting Office report estimated that, by the time men were nearing the end of their draft eligibility, the Selective Service would likely have correct addresses for just a quarter of them. (That appears to be the last time such a study was published.)

Even where the government has a current address, registration may do little to speed draftees to duty: A government study preceding the 1980 resumption of draft registration estimated it would only cut seven days off the time needed to deliver the first inductee to military service.

One might be inclined to instinctively associate support for the draft with Republicans and opposition with Democrats. However, at key points in recent draft history, the opposite is true.

In his 1968 presidential campaign, Republican Richard Nixon ran on a commitment to end conscription for the Vietnam War, and the last men were ordered into military service on December 7, 1972, as his first term was ending. Registration continued for a few more years, until Republican President Gerald Ford suspended it in 1975.

The ensuing draft-registration hiatus was short-lived: Democrat Jimmy Carter ushered the current system into place in 1980, as he sought to convey election-year strength in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Republican icon Ronald Reagan opposed the draft from the 1960s through his 1980 presidential campaign, once saying that, other than in a time of “severe national emergency…a draft or draft registration destroys the very values that our society is committed to defending.” Once in office, however, hawkish advisors dissuaded him from ending registration.

2021: Republicans and Democrats Join Forces Against the Draft

Today, a bipartisan quartet of federal legislators are leading a new charge against the draft. In mid-April, representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced matching House and Senate legislation to abolish the Selective Service.

Noting that “Congress hasn’t come close to reinstating a draft in 50 years,” Wyden said “this arcane system, which disproportionately harms disadvantaged young men, should be officially abolished, once and for all.”

Court Case Puts Young Women in the Crosshairs

Congress is under high pressure to do something about the draft, and soon, as the Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of male-only draft registration. If the court takes up the case, a decision can be expected late this year or in the first half of 2022.

In a 1981 case initiated by the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), the Supreme Court upheld male-only registration in a 6-3 decision, with the majority reasoning that it aligned with the fact that women were barred from serving in combat roles.

However, that rationale was decimated in 2015, when the Pentagon opened combat roles to women. The court is now considering a fresh challenge from the NCFM, which is joined by the American Civil Liberties Union. The NCFM petition argues that male-only registration violates the right to equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

On April 14th, the Biden administration asked the court not to hear the case, arguing that Congress is considering a change to the law that could render the case moot. As a candidate, Biden supported expanding registration to include women.

The Selective Service System costs taxpayers $26 million a year; it’s estimated that implementing female-inclusive registration would require an extra $59 million over the first five years alone.

Last year, the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service recommended that women be compelled to register, declaring it “a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified Nation (sic) in a time of national emergency.”

Earlier, I noted that some 1.5 million currently-obligated men haven’t registered. If registration were expanded to women, that tally of felons-in-waiting would skyrocket. That millions of women would become felons under an expanded draft scheme should give pause to feminists.

Likewise, no one should consider it “progress” for women to be forcibly exposed to the risk of being maimed or killed in some future conflict that, if history is any guide, is likely to be a pointless exercise that does nothing to advance national security.

To put it another way, one doesn’t empower women by giving politicians the gravest of control over their bodies. Rather than urging that women be subjected to the draft alongside men, those who support equal protection under the law should call for both men and women to be shielded from coerced military service, which has no place in a free society.

Military Conscription is Involuntary Servitude

The 13th Amendment says “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

Of course, when casting down prohibitions, governments routinely carve out exceptions for themselves; in 1918, the Supreme Court endorsed the practice of forcing men into highly hazardous labor for the government.

In Arver vs the United States, the court unanimously rejected a challenge to the draft claiming it’s a form of involuntary servitude. Reading like the work of propagandists, the Supreme Court’s Arver opinion describes coerced military service in exalted terms and then simply scoffs at the suggestion anyone would question its propriety:

“As we are unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation…can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude…, we are constrained to the conclusion that the contention to that effect is refuted by its mere statement.”

Elsewhere in the opinion, the Supreme Court equates Congress’s constitutional power to “raise and support armies” with the authority to accomplish that through coercion.

The past 49 years give ample proof that an army can be raised by enticing volunteers. To the extent the scope of some future war exceeds the supply of willing recruits, the government should be compelled to either respond to the market by offering higher salaries and benefits, or to reconsider the breadth of its military engagement.

As Rand Paul said in announcing his sponsorship of the Senate draft termination bill, “If a war is worth fighting, Congress will vote to declare it and people will volunteer. This outdated government program no longer serves a purpose and should be eliminated permanently.”

Note: Brian McGlinchey served—voluntarily—as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army Reserve and Pennsylvania National Guard, and as an officer in the U.S. Army.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

Cops Sic Dog on Sleeping 13 Year Old Boy, Falsely Accuse Him of Stealing Car

Cops Sic Dog on Sleeping 13 Year Old Boy, Falsely Accuse Him of Stealing Car

The Cedar Rapids police department was slapped with a lawsuit this week by the mother of a 13-year-old boy who was mauled by a police K-9 as he slept in the backyard. According to the lawsuit, the boy was wrongly accused of being involved in a car theft when he was attacked by the K-9 and arrested “simply by virtue of his race and appearance.”

The attack unfolded on August 12, 2020 and was captured on police body camera. The boy’s mother, Tonya Marie Adams filed an open records request in November to get the video and it was released this week.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the lawsuit asserts excessive force was used by officers involved in the arrest, as well as K-9 officer Nathan Trimble and his canine partner; that there was negligence in police canine training, and racial discrimination that amounted to reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others, including 13-year-old A.H., as he is identified in the suit.

According to police, they were pursuing a suspect in a stolen vehicle investigation who may have been armed. The suspect was eventually captured, however, as they searched for him, officers came upon the boy.

Brad Kaspar, an attorney for Adams, explained how the boy was set to sleep at a friend’s house that night but due to a mix-up in communication the friend wasn’t home, so he fell asleep waiting for him in the back yard.

While sleeping in the backyard, the boy was shaken out of his slumber by the teeth of a police K-9 named Ace, handled by officer Nathan Trimble. The dog latched onto the boy’s arm and began shredding his flesh.

Not knowing what was going on, the boy freaked out and began screaming. Despite police clearly seeing that the boy was unarmed and posed no threat, the dog was not immediately pulled from his arm. Instead, it continued to tear into his shoulder and upper arm.

“I moved up my leash to gain positive control of Ace’s harness,” Trimble said in the report. “With the footing it was extremely difficult to maintain balance on as the logs were all around and I fell down several times. I did verify that the subject had nothing in his hands. I grabbed ahold of Ace’s collar and removed him.”

According to the lawsuit, the boy was then told he was under arrest for car theft and firearms charges after the officers falsely accused him of taking part in the burglary.

The boy’s injuries were so bad that he wasn’t immediately brought to jail. Instead, he was brought to the hospital and as doctor’s worked on his arm, police finally realized he was innocent and had nothing to do with the alleged car theft. He was then released to his mother without charges.

According to the Gazette, the lawsuit states the police dog handled by Trimble has in at least one previous incident attacked a citizen “without provocation or command.” In this case, Trimble failed to adequately control the police dog as it “sporadically darted throughout the neighborhood,” the suit asserts.

The lawsuit states the boy was treated by the police in this manner, assumed guilty, and mauled by the police dog because of his race and appearance. According to the lawsuit, police didn’t look for any evidence at all before allowing the dog to maul the boy, detaining and arresting him.

The family is seeking an unspecified amount for physical and emotional injuries and damages inflicted on the boy by the Cedar Rapids police department and their K-9.

Once again, the police apologists—who constantly parrot the line of ‘don’t do anything wrong and you have nothing to worry about’—are proven wrong. This is no isolated incident either. Just last month, TFTP reported on the case of Joel Domingo Alejo, who, like the boy in the incident above, was asleep on his own property when police forced their K-9 to maul him. Predictably, none of the officers were held accountable.

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

TGIF: Bust the Conservative “Trust Busters”

TGIF: Bust the Conservative “Trust Busters”

When right-wing leader Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) recently declared that “liberty and monopoly do not go together,” I fantasized that he had become a free-market anarchist. When I hear monopoly, I think government because what’s the most literal of monopolies (or source of monopoly power) than the state?

Imagine my disappointment when I realized that, quite the contrary, he was embracing expanded government power over consensual interaction in the marketplace. He was introducing his aggressively named Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act. Hawley wants to be the our day’s Theodore Roosevelt, also a Republican but no friend of individual liberty and free-market interaction.

Hawley says would like to break up Major League Baseball, Big Tech, Big Telecom, Big Banks, and Big Pharma, as well as limit or prohibit what other big companies can do, such as merge with or acquire other companies. It’s quite a comprehensive serving of government powers from a guy who probably tells himself he favors limited government. That’s how things are. Conservatives have long had higher priorities than defending peaceful interaction in all spheres. Hawley is no friend of liberty.

Like any good conservative, for Hawley many things outrank individual liberty: protection of the culture from the left, for example. In other words, when the left proposes government power as a solution to a real or imagined problem, Hawleyites propose some other expansion of government power, for example, regulation of social media and search engines on behalf of conservative groups. Mentions of liberty are mostly lip-service intended to keep some imagined coalition together.

Hawley’s news release says his “new legislation [is designed] to take back control from big business and return it to the American people. Senator Hawley’s bill will crack down on mergers and acquisitions by mega-corporations and strengthen antitrust enforcement to pursue the breakup of dominant, anticompetitive firms.”

As we’ll see, this approach assumes that the anticompetitive power of business is an independent variable, rather than something derived from political power in countless ways. If all the intended and unintended anticompetitive laws and regulations were repealed, the Federal Register would be considerably thinner and we’d all be considerably freer. Competition would thrive. That’s why I call corporate power “the most dangerous derivative”–it’s generated by the government and wouldn’t exist without it.

The release says, “A small group of woke mega-corporations control the products Americans can buy, the information Americans can receive, and the speech Americans can engage in. These monopoly powers control our speech, our economy, our country, and their control has only grown because Washington has aided and abetted their quest for endless power.”

This is a gross overstatement, even with all the laws on the books. But to the extent Hawley is correct, it’s too bad he fails to understand that he is indicting the interventionist state–that is, politicians and bureaucrats–and not of the market process, which when left alone has built-in safeguards against anticonsumer activities. It’s called competition, but it must be left unmolested by the state, many of whose interventions enable firms to grow bigger than they would be in a free market. (See Milton and Rose Friedman’s chapter “Who Protects the Consumer?” in Free to Choose.)

“Woke corporations want to run this country and Washington is happy to let them. It’s time to bust up them up and restore competition,” the release states.

The word woke here indicates that culture is what drives Hawley and his allies. I don’t mean that anything labeled “woke” is innocuous (far from it), just that Hawley wants to punish companies that take what in his view is the wrong side of today’s raging political-cultural issues. He is incensed that Major League Baseball pulled its all-state game out of Atlanta because it disapproves of Republican-favored election-rule changes in Georgia. For Hawley, moving the game is an illegitimate attempt to influence public policy. His solution? Subject MLB to antitrust law. (He’s joined by fellow Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.) That doesn’t sound like the proposal of a small-government man.

Here are some things Hawley’s bill would do:

  • Ban all mergers and acquisitions by companies with market capitalization exceeding $100 billion;
  • Empower the FTC to designate “dominant digital firms” exercising dominant market power in particular internet markets, which will be prohibited from buying out potential competitors;
  • Prohibit dominant digital firms from privileging their own search results over those of competitors without explicit disclosure;
  • Reform the Sherman and Clayton Acts to make clear that direct evidence of anticompetitive conduct is sufficient to support an antitrust claim, which will allow enforcers to effectively pursue the breakup of dominant firms and prevent antitrust cases from devolving into battles between economists;
  • Replace the outdated numerically-focused standard for evaluating antitrust cases, which allows giant conglomerates to escape scrutiny by focusing on short-term considerations, with a standard emphasizing the protection of competition in the U.S.;
  • Clarify that “vertical” mergers are not exempt from antitrust scrutiny;
  • Drastically increase antitrust penalties by requiring companies that lose federal antitrust suits to forfeit all their profits resulting from monopolistic conduct

That’s quite an undertaking (an appropriate word in both senses) for any government, considering that the mortals who would enforce such a law would lack the essential knowledge and incentives needed to do the right thing. The history of antitrust is a history of cronyism and special pleading, but what would you expect?.

The bill would expand the Progressive-era Sherman and Clayton acts in several ominous ways. For example:

In any case alleging a violation of this section 5 or section 1 in which a plaintiff establishes by a preponderance of the evidence (including direct evidence) the existence of substantial market power or the anticompetitive or otherwise detrimental effects of particular practices, a plaintiff need neither define the scope of a relevant market nor establish the share of such a market controlled by the defendant.

Even if one wrongly grants the legitimacy of antitrust law, it is absurd that the relevant market or market share of the defendant would not need to be defined by the government or other plaintiff. How would one know that a firm was monopolistic? (Years ago the government sued the major ready-to-eat cereal companies for monopolistic  activity on the basis of a narrow definition of the breakfast-food market that excluded all the alternatives to cold cereal.)

No acquisition shall be presumed not to substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly only because the parties to the acquisition do not compete directly against one another at the time of the acquisition.

Again, even many people who favor antitrust distinguish between horizontal acquisitions, in which a firm buys another firm that makes the same product, and a vertical one, in which a firm buys another firm that makes the first firm’s inputs or buys its products. Hawley wants to go an extra step to insure that no company valued at more than $100 billion could change a market through an acquisition. That’s true conservatism!

The bill would also have new rules for what it calls a “dominant digital firm,” which would be any company that is accessible through the internet and “possesses dominant market power in any market related to that website or service.” Here conservatives propose to enlist the state to go after the social networks and search engines for real and alleged mistreatment of … conservatives presumably. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), another  creature of the Progressive movement, would be given the power to designate a person, partnership, or corporation as a dominant digital firm,” at which time new rules apply. Oddly, this is the one section that acknowledges that government puts its thumb on the scale in economic matters: in determining a firm’s “market power,” the FTC would consider “the extent to which the firm benefits from government contracts or other privileges.” That is an important point, but the solution is to withdraw the anticompetitive privileges, not to impose new restrictions.

None of this means that big business deserves nothing but praise. With some rare exceptions, many business people, as Friedman often pointed out, have long seen the government as a convenient way to get what they couldn’t get through free competition. That’s why antitrust was so often used not to protect consumers, but to protect less-efficient firms that fared poorly in the market. (See D. T. Armentano’s classic, Antitrust and Monopoly: Anatomy of a Policy Failure.)

Moreover, we all should be bothered that the social network owners think it’s right to mediate what is true and false in their customers’ conversations and feeds. Social networks are private firms, but that doesn’t make anything they do a good thing. Besides, we may justifiably wonder how much of what they do in this regard is done to stave off government regulation from progressives. They know the eye of the state is upon them. Further, we may also suspect that the big networks have calculated that when regulation comes, they, the experts, would be called on to write the rules–as long as they are seen as behaving well.

The argument against antitrust law is that it misconstrues the market. When free it is not a static condition but a process in perpetual motion, in which entrepreneurs are always trying to profit by better serving customers. In an unmolested market the threat of potential competition would do as much to keep a single firm on the customers’ side as actual competition. So quantitative indicators are misleading. As D. T. Armentano says, high profits in an industry with one or two firms is not a barrier to new competition but an engraved invitation. Moreover, even a cartel agreement among a few sellers couldn’t prevent “cheating” by parties to increase revenues; nor could it prevent new entrants from taking advantage of the dominant firms’ disregard of consumer welfare.

Hawley’s bill declares, “It is the policy of the United States that the principal standard for evaluating the permissibility of practices under this Act is the protection of economic competition within the United States.’’ But “competition” is too abstract a thing to protect, and history shows that such a goal opens the gates to complaints from inefficient firms (or their advocates in the regulatory bureaucracy) that claim they are victims of efficient firms’ “anticompetitive” actions when in fact they are victims of their own inefficiency.

Instead of protecting competition (aka weak firms), let’s protect individual liberty for everyone.

The bill’s chances of passing a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party are nonexistent of course. But this isn’t because it would grant new controls over peaceful activities. Rather, it’s because Hawley’s motive is to rein in “woke” corporations. No doubt the Democrats will have their own antitrust bill before long.

Gene Editing Goes to Clincial Trials

Gene Editing Goes to Clincial Trials

Gene-editing using the groundbreaking CRISPR technology is about to be put to the test in the first-ever clinical trial of the treatment in humans. CRISPR is a protein in bacteria that can be used to manipulate genetic material to, according to Jennifer Doudna, who won last year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of CRISPR technology, “alter[] DNA sequences in any cell in a precise fashion, in a programmable fashion.” This remarkable technology has the potential to eliminate all genetic disorders and is already delivering results that scientists say were unimaginable just a few years ago.

As is observed in the Netflix documentary series “Unnatural Selection,” we are now “doing science fiction science,” and have been thrust more quickly than we expected into a new world in which our genetic blueprints can be tweaked and optimized. Many bioethicists see such interventions as a potentially dangerous affront to the natural order, opening a Pandora’s Box of potentially disastrous outcomes we can’t begin to predict.

Yet, it is not at all obvious what the term “natural” means or ought to mean, particularly within the context of a human history defined by technological interventions that necessarily restructure natural reality. We may wonder, for example, whether the domestication of grains was natural, whether the use of vaccines to conquer smallpox and polio was natural, whether turning wolves into dogs tens of thousands of years ago was natural, whether using our knowledge of genetics to safely increase the quality and quantity of our crops was natural, whether the very practice of medicine as we know it today is natural, etc.

Read the rest of this article at The Hill

When Murray Rothbard Predicted the Menthol Ban

When Murray Rothbard Predicted the Menthol Ban

Murray Rothbard wrote the following article in August 1994.

Quick: Which is America’s Most Persecuted Minority? No, you’re wrong. (And it’s not Big Business either: one of Ayn Rand’s more ludicrous pronouncements.)

All right, consider this: Which group has been increasingly illegalized, shamed and denigrated first by the Establishment, and then, following its lead, by society at large? Which group, far from coming out of the “closet,” has been literally forced back into the closet after centuries of walking proudly in the public square? And which group has tragically internalized the value-system of its oppressors, so that they are deeply ashamed and guilty about practicing their rites and customs? Which group is so brow-beaten that it never thinks of defending itself, any attempt at which is publicly condemned and ridiculed? Which group is considered such sinners that the use of doctored statistics against them is considered legitimate means in a worthy cause?

I refer, of course, to that once proud race, tobacco-smokers, a group once revered and envied, but now there are none so poor as to do them reverence.

So low has this group sunk in the public esteem that, in rushing to their defense, I am obliged to point out that I myself am not and never have been a smoker. Can you imagine having to put in such a disclaimer against special pleading in behalf of the rights of blacks, Jews, or gays against oppression?

The crusade against smoking is only the currently most virulent example of one of the most malignant forces in American life: left neo-Puritanism. Puritanism was famously defined by my favorite writer, H.L. Mencken, as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” The major problem with the Puritans is not so much that they were a dour lot, but that they were believers in the dangerous Christian heresy of “post-millennialism” that is, that it is man’s responsibility to establish a thousand-year (give or take a few centuries) Kingdom of God on Earth as a precondition of the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Since the Kingdom is by definition a perfect society free of sin, this means that it is the theological duty of believers to establish a sin-free society. But establishing a sin-free society, of course, means taking stern measures to get rid of sinners, which is where the rub comes in.

Now I recognize that in being obliged to depict the crusaders as neo-Puritans, I am in a deep sense not doing justice to the original Puritans. The original seventeenth-century New England Puritans were not so much crusaders as people who wanted to establish their own sin-free Kingdom in their own new settlements, their own “city on a hill.” The original Puritans, too, were Calvinists, who believed in Christianity and a Christian commonwealth as a strict code of Biblical and God-determined law. But over the years, the original Puritanism was replaced, especially by a wave of pietist revivalism in the late 1820s, by a far more crusading and hence menacing version of Protestant Christianity: what is technically known as “post-millennial evangelical pietism” (PMEP). This PMEP took particular root among the ethno-cultural descendants of the old Puritans, people who became known as “Yankees,” and who had migrated from New England to populate such areas as upstate New York, northern and eastern Ohio, northern Indiana, and northern Illinois. (No, “Yankees,” as in “damn Yankees,” did not mean simply “Northerners.”)

This new, and malignant, form of PMEP, of neo-Puritanism, which literally dominated all the mainstream Protestant churches in the North for literally one hundred years, had the following traits: (1) Creed, or liturgy, is formalistic and unimportant. So long as you are a Protestant, it doesn’t matter what church you belong to. Churches don’t matter; the only thing that matters is the individual’s salvation. (2) To achieve salvation, the individual must believe and must be free from sin. (3) “Sin,” however, is very broadly defined as virtually any practice that is enjoyable, in particular, anything which might “cloud your mind” so that you might not achieve salvation: in particular, liquor (Demon Rum); any activity on the Sabbath except praying, reading the Bible, and going to church (and not the Roman Catholic Church, the instrument of the Antichrist in the Vatican); (4) Since each individual is weak and subject to temptation, his salvation must be aided by the government, whose theological duty it is to stamp out such occasions for sin as liquor, activity of any secular sort on the Sabbath, and the Catholic Church. As one historian aptly summed up the PMEP attitude toward the State: “Government is God’s major instrument of salvation.” After all, how are liquor or Catholics to be stamped out by persuasion alone? (5) (the crucial icing on the cake): You will not be saved unless you try your darndest to maximize everyone else’s salvation (i.e., get the government to stamp out sin).

Armed with this five-point world-outlook, the neo-Puritan PMEP hurled himself (and herself, and how!) into a devilishly energetic, hopped-up, unrelenting crusade to stamp out these evils, and to set up paternalistic Big Government on the local, state, and national levels to crush sin and to usher in a perfect sin-less Kingdom. In politics, this meant a full century of crusading against liquor, and to keep the Sabbath Holy. (Do you know that in libertarian, anti-neo-Puritan Jacksonian America, the Post Office used to deliver the mail on Sundays?) But since it would be clearly unconstitutional to outlaw the Catholic Church, the PMEP substitute was to try to force all children into a network of public schools, the object of which was to inculcate obedience to the State and, in the popular slogan of the day, to “Christianize the Catholic” kids, since Catholic adults were clearly doomed.

It took archetypical neo-Puritan Woodrow Wilson not only to bring Prohibition to America, and thereby fulfill the PMEP’s most cherished dreams, but also to take PMEP crusading on to a world scale. For after the Kingdom was established in America, the next holy step was to bring about a worldwide Kingdom. (The Prohibitionist crusaders, however, soon found their dreams of a liquor-free Europe dashed beyond repair.)

The ethno-religious group that felt the most severe oppression from the fanatical harridans of the PMEP (for yes, the most fanatic crusaders were Yankee women, especially spinsters) were the German-American Catholics and High-Church Lutherans. Both of these groups imported into America the charming and admirable custom of going to church on Sundays with their family in their best finery, and then repairing to a beer garden in the afternoon, where they could drink beer and listen to their beloved oom-pah-pah bands. You can imagine the reaction when hordes of PMEP harridans descended upon them crying “Sin! Evil! Smash!” for committing what to the Germans was harmless, but what to the PMEPs was the grave double sin of drinking beer, and on Sundays! And, furthermore, both the Catholics and the German Lutherans wanted to bring up their kids in their own parochial schools, and not in the secularist (or rather, PMEP) public school system!

The high-water mark of PMEP crusading was, of course, the outlawing of all liquor (and by constitutional amendment, no less!). The result used to be common knowledge in America; absolute disaster: tyranny, corruption, black markets and more alcoholism as people went underground to get more intense “fixes” such as hard liquor rather than beer before the cops could close in. And, of course, organized crime, which was almost non-existent before Prohibition. But now, only groups willing to be criminals were available to supply a much desired and demanded product.

This grim lesson used to be known to all Americans, but it has been lost in the enthusiasm for recent neo-Puritan crusades; against drugs, and now against smoking. What is little realized is that the current reason for the crusade was also present during the old PMEP war against liquor. As the decades wore on, the neo-Puritans used both theological and medicinal arguments; liquor will not only send you to Hell, but would also ruin your temporal body, your liver, your body-as-a-temple. Liquor would cause you to beat your wives, have more accidents, and, a little later, injure yourself and others on the road. Increasingly, over the years, the PMEPs married theology and Science in their crusade.

So what happened to the aggressively Christian features of neo-Puritanism, to the emphasis on salvation and on the Kingdom? Interestingly, over the decades, the Christian aspect gradually disappeared. After all, if as a Christian activist, your major focus is not on creed or liturgy but on using the government to shape everyone up and stamp out sin, eventually Christ fades out of the picture and government remains. The picture of the Kingdom of God on Earth becomes secularized or atheized, and, in the Marxist version, the secular sin-free Kingdom is brought about by the terrible swift sword of the “saints” of the Communist Party. We have arrived at the grisly land of Left Puritanism, of a Left Kingdom which proposes to bring about a perfect world free of tobacco, inequality, greed, and hate-thoughts. We have arrived, in short, in the land of The Enemy.

And so, smokers! Are you mice or are you men? Smokers, rise up, be proud, throw off the guilt imposed on you by your oppressors! Stand tall, and smoke! Defend your rights! Do you really think that someone can get instant lung cancer by imbibing a bit of smoke from someone sitting twenty feet away in an outdoor arena? How do you explain the fact that millions of people have smoked all their lives without ill effect?

And remember, if today they come for the smoker, tomorrow they will come for you. If today they grab your cigarette, tomorrow they will seize your junk food, your carbohydrates, your yummy but “empty” calories. And don’t think that your liquor is safe either; neo-Prohibitionism has been long on the march, what with “sin taxes” (revealing term, isn’t it?), outlawing of advertising, higher drinking ages, and the neo-Puritan harpies of MADD. Are you ready for the Left Nutritional Kingdom, with everyone forced to confine his food to yogurt and tofu and bean sprouts? Are you ready to be confined in a cage, to make sure that your diet is perfect, and that you get the prescribed Compulsory Exercise? All to be governed by a Hillary Clinton National Health Board?

Smokers, if you have the guts to form a Smokers Defense League, I will be happy to join a Non-Smokers Auxiliary! How about smokers as one important mass base for a right-wing populist counterrevolution?

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

Remembering Reese Erlich, Pillar of Independent Journalism

Remembering Reese Erlich, Pillar of Independent Journalism

When Reese Erlich died in early April, we lost a global reporter who led by example. During five decades as a progressive journalist, Reese created and traveled an independent path while avoiding the comfortable ruts dug by corporate media. When people in the United States read or heard his reporting from more than 50 countries, he offered windows on the world that were not tinted red-white-and-blue. Often, he illuminated grim consequences of U.S. foreign policy.

The first memorable conversation I had with Reese was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on the way to Iraq in September 2002—as it turned out, six months before the US invasion. He was one of the few journalists covering a small delegation, including Congressman Nick Rahall and former Senator James Abourezk, which the Institute for Public Accuracy sponsored in an attempt to establish U.S.-Iraqi dialogue and avert the looming invasion.

As the organizer of the trip, I was on edge, and I asked Reese for his assessment. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the Middle East, he provided cogent insights and talked about what was at stake.

After filing stories from various parts of Iraq, Reese returned home to California and we worked together to write alternating chapters of a book that came out two months before the invasion—Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You. (The book is posted online.) Reese’s eyewitness reporting and analysis were crucial to the book.

Reese critiqued the basic flaws in US media coverage then beating the war drums, and he also wrote about the “professional” atmosphere that led US journalists to conform.

As President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair methodically lied the US and Britain into a war on Iraq, Reese pointed out: “The Bush and Blair administrations are fighting a two-front war: one against Iraq, another for public opinion at home. The major media are as much a battleground as the fortifications in Baghdad. And, for the most part, Bush and Blair have stalwart media soldiers manning the barricades at home.”

In a chapter titled “Media Coverage: A View from the Ground,” Reese wrote: “The U.S. is supposed to have the best and freest media in the world, but in my experience, having reported from dozens of countries, the higher up you go in the journalistic feeding chain, the less free the reporting…The journalist’s best education is on the job. In addition to journalistic skills, young reporters also learn about acceptable parameters of reporting. There’s little formal censorship in the US media. But you learn who are acceptable or unacceptable sources. Most corporate officials and politicians are acceptable, the higher up the better.”

Reese summed up: “Money, prestige, career options, ideological predilections—combined with the down sides of filing stories unpopular with the government—all cast their influence on foreign correspondents. You don’t win a Pulitzer for challenging the basic assumptions of empire.”

While Reese won prizes, including a Peabody Award, he did something far more important—skillfully and consistently challenging “the basic assumptions of empire.”

Reese did so with balance and accuracy as a freelancer reporting for such outlets as the Christian Science MonitorSan Francisco Chronicle, New York Times Syndicate, Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

I saw Reese at work in Iran in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2009. He was meticulous and good-natured even when the journey became exhausting and stressful. Unusual stories were usual for him. It was all in a day’s work when Reese lined up an interview with a grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini or got us to a women’s rights protest at Tehran University, or when he located an out-of-the-way refugee camp in Kabul where we could interview victims of the war.

Along with his radio reports and articles, Reese went in-depth as the author of Inside SyriaThe Iran Agenda TodayDateline Havanaand Conversations with Terrorists. Reese’s firsthand reporting, multilayered knowledge and wry humor enrich those books. Meanwhile, he reached many people via interviews and public appearances, even when he was fighting cancer in his last months (as when he spoke about U.S.-Iranian relations and the Iran nuclear deal in February).

During recent years, Reese’s “Foreign Correspondent” column for The Progressive magazine appeared in kindred online outlets like Common Dreams and the San Francisco-based 48 Hills. His last article—”My Final Column?“—embodies the honesty and deep humanity that made Reese such a wonderful journalist.

Reese Erlich’s work and spirit live on.

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

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