Politics

Three Observations on the Second Wave of COVID-19

Three Observations on the Second Wave of COVID-19

The long-feared second wave of COVID-19 in the United States appears to have arrived. National case numbers are making new records and two states have started to move back towards quarantine.

Since news reports on the virus continue to emphasize the wrong metrics, some important facts about the new wave often get missed. Here are three things to know about the new rise in cases.

1. The recent rise in cases cannot be explained by increases in testing.

This is an important point because the onset of a second jump in cases has been declared prematurely several times before now. These types of reports came in different flavors. Sometimes, they calculated percentage growth rates off extremely small numbers (at a county level for instance) to report an eye-popping rate of growth. More commonly, they failed to highlight the fact that total testing was increasing faster than new cases–suggesting the virus was probably just as common as it had been days earlier, but the state was able to confirm more cases.

This time is different. Many states are experiencing both a rise in absolute cases, and a rise in the percentage of cases that is coming back positive (the positivity rate). This is a clear sign that things in these places is getting worse with respect to the coronavirus.

As of June 27, these are all the states that was seeing both a positivity rate above 10% and weekly rise in that rate. The original data for the table below comes from The COVID Tracking Project:

So, while not all of these states are in crisis right now, it is correct to say we are seeing a pronounced jump in cases in many places. It’s not just a figment of the data / reporting like it had been before.

2. The rise in cases is primarily occurring in places that were not hit hard before.

When you look at a chart of the national numbers of new cases, you can clearly see the second wave that’s occurring. Using the data through June 27, our weekly figures of new cases is rapidly approaching the previous peaks set in April.

The trend below shows rolling 7-day positive cases for the US (all states plus DC and Puerto Rico) per 100,000 people:

On a national basis, the second wave description looks appropriate. But this obscures very different trends at the state level. In reality, the places where cases are rising did not experience much of a peak earlier on the crisis.

Consider the trends below for four states that have been making headlines in the past few days: Texas, Florida, California, and Arizona.

In this data, we see that Texas experienced a slight uptick in April, but it was much smaller than what we’re seeing now. For Arizona, Florida, and California, the recent rise they are experiencing is their first serious increase when adjusted for population. Conversely, states like New York and New Jersey saw their large increase in March and April, but are now seeing stable or declining cases.

This pattern demonstrates one of the many problems with demanding a nationwide lockdown in a country as large as the US. In effect, all states shut down (to varying degrees) based on the experience of New York, New Jersey, and a couple other hotspots. They did this without regard to whether the outbreaks they were experiencing could possibly warrant such dramatic action.

Now that some of these same states are facing a real outbreak close to home, they’re starting to do a new round of limited restrictions. In the face of an economy on life support, widespread social unrest, and an election year, it’s unclear much people will tolerate or comply with another aggressive attempt at quarantine.

3. So far, the second wave appears to be less lethal than the first wave.

Another important characteristic of the second wave is that, at least so far, it looks like to be less deadly than the earlier spikes.

Some commentators have made this point by looking at the trends in death counts for the new hotspots. However, this is not a good way to evaluate the lethality of the second wave at this point.

Deaths are a lagging indicator in this data. According to facts summarized by Our World in Data, death typically occurs between 2 weeks to 8 weeks after the onset of symptoms, which in turn show up several days after initial infection. Many of the cases being discovered now will eventually prove fatal, but they won’t be counted for several weeks. Looking at death rates today in the new hotspots risks providing a false sense of reassurance.

A better way to evaluate the likely lethality of this second wave in real time is to look at the trends in hospitalized COVID-19 cases.

We saw previously that the rise in new cases is now above the levels seen in April. Fortunately, for now the hospitalization data is not following the same trajectory.

In the chart below, we see the national trend in per capita positive cases combined with per capita hospitalization:


Here, we see that national hospitalization data has stabilized but has started to move upward, but is not accelerated at the same pace as total cases.

When we look on a state-by-state basis, a similar pattern emerges. Below, we present the hospitalization trends for current and prior hotspot states. (Florida is omitted due to a lack of reliable hospitalization data.):

Of the new epicenters, Arizona again shows up as an outlier on hospitalization. But even so, it’s still a ways out from the extreme per capita hospitalization levels seen earlier in the northeast. Meanwhile, the other states are on a slight upswing, but still low in terms of overall numbers.

There are several different reasons that might help account for the lower hospitalization rates in this cycle.

One explanation is that the average age of COVID-19 individuals is lower than it was in the first wave of cases. CNN recently reported on this rise in infections among young people as a cause for alarm…

“It’s a little bit of a disturbing trend, and what frightens me is not only that they are younger, the potential of them infecting other people, particularly parents and grandparents,” Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer at Grady Health System, told WSB.

…but in fact, it’s much better than the alternative. If more people are going to be infected, it’s obviously preferable that the people with the lowest chance of serious illness are the ones that get it.

It’s worth remembering that one of the reasons that New York and New Jersey fared worse than other states is that they had a policy which inadvertently increased the probability that older, more vulnerable people would be infected. In an attempt to preserve hospital capacity, these governments required hospitals to discharge COVID-19 patients back to nursing homes before it was confirmed that they no longer had the virus. The result was that the virus was effectively being reintroduced in nursing homes, spreading widely among a high-risk population.

Another reason for lower relative hospitalization rate in the new epicenters is that the testing is far more widespread. When New York was dealing with its peak in April, testing capacity was still being ramped up. This meant that the tests had to be reserved for healthcare workers and people with severe symptoms. In turn, we know that the total confirmed cases in April for New York and other states significantly understated the true number of cases. We just don’t know how large the understatement was.

Since the virus is hitting states like Arizona later, the testing limitations are not as severe. In all probability, this means that the confirmed case count in Arizona today is closer to the true number of infections.

This is not to suggest hospitals will have the capacity they need. When new cases are concentrated in specific parts of a state (as is occurring in Houston, Texas), hospitals will again be strained beyond their normal limits.

The point is that, at least for now, the trend is not nearly as dire as what the northeastern states saw previously. That nuance is easily lost among a sea of news headlines about record new cases.

Why Did The Police Abandon Their Posts?

Why Did The Police Abandon Their Posts?

The riots and looting that have taken place in the aftermath of a Minneapolis law enforcement officer suffocating a man to death — which was caught on video by a bystander — has people questioning the idea of policing and how it is done. Should police be taught de-escalation tactics? Would it be prudent for them to live in the area they patrol? Why is law enforcement still performing “broken window policing?” In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin these are all things to ponder. 

Taking all of this into consideration, people aren’t asking why it is that police are abandoning their precincts, leaving them to the mob, and suffering no consequences for this action. A few have asked why the police aren’t protecting the public and its property but one would think that in the least the cops would protect “their own house,” right? It is apparent that people learned nothing from the Parkland school shooting when it comes to “law enforcement” being the “security force” of the people. Even after it was determined that the officers who cowered outside had “no duty to protect,” the public still didn’t grasp the message the courts were sending. 

The idea that law enforcement is there “to serve and protect” individual members of the public has been ruled against over and over again, and the facts surrounding some of the most famous cases are particularly heinous. 

Warren v. District of Columbia (1981) 

Warren v D.C. is probably the most cited case when it comes to the fact that police aren’t mandated to protect the individual. 

The details of the case are terrifying: 

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 16, 1975, Carolyn Warren and Joan Taliaferro, who shared a room on the third floor of their rooming house at 1112 Lamont Street Northwest in the District of Columbia, and Miriam Douglas, who shared a room on the second floor with her four-year-old daughter, were asleep. The women were awakened by the sound of the back door being broken down by two men later identified as Marvin Kent and James Morse. The men entered Douglas’ second floor room, where Kent forced Douglas to perform oral sex on him and Morse raped her.  

Warren and Taliaferro heard Douglas’ screams from the floor below. Warren called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher that the house was being burglarized, and requested immediate assistance. The department employee told her to remain quiet and assured her that police assistance would be dispatched promptly.  

Warren’s call was received at Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters at 0623 hours, and was recorded as a burglary-in-progress. At 0626, a call was dispatched to officers on the street as a “Code 2” assignment, although calls of a crime in progress should be given priority and designated as “Code 1.” Four police cruisers responded to the broadcast; three to the Lamont Street address and one to another address to investigate a possible suspect.  

Meanwhile, Warren and Taliaferro crawled from their window onto an adjoining roof and waited for the police to arrive. While there, they observed one policeman drive through the alley behind their house and proceed to the front of the residence without stopping, leaning out the window, or getting out of the car to check the back entrance of the house. A second officer apparently knocked on the door in front of the residence, but left when he received no answer. The three officers departed the scene at 0633, five minutes after they arrived.  

Warren and Taliaferro crawled back inside their room. They again heard Douglas’ continuing screams; again called the police; told the officer that the intruders had entered the home, and requested immediate assistance. Once again, a police officer assured them that help was on the way. This second call was received at 0642 and recorded merely as “investigate the trouble;” it was never dispatched to any police officers.  

Believing the police might be in the house, Warren and Taliaferro called down to Douglas, thereby alerting Kent to their presence. At knife point, Kent and Morse then forced all three women to accompany them to Kent’s apartment. For the next fourteen hours the captive women were raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon one another, and made to submit to the sexual demands of Kent and Morse.  

Warren, Taliaferro, and Douglas brought the following claims of negligence against the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Police Department: the dispatcher’s failure to forward the 6:23 a. m. call with the proper degree of urgency; the responding officers’ failure to follow standard police investigative procedures, specifically their failure to check the rear entrance and position themselves properly near the doors and windows to ascertain whether there was any activity inside; and the dispatcher’s failure to dispatch the 6:42 a. m. call. 

The women sought to sue the District of Columbia and several individual members of the Metropolitan Police Department on two different occasions. The results were: 

“In a 4–3 decision, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial courts’ dismissal of the complaints against the District of Columbia and individual members of the Metropolitan Police Department based on the public duty doctrine ruling that the duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists. The Court thus adopted the trial court’s determination that no special relationship existed between the police and appellants, and therefore no specific legal duty existed between the police and the appellants.” 

Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales 

The importance of Castle Rock v Gonzales cannot be overstated since, unlike Warren, this case was taken to the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. for its ruling.  

The events that precipitated the ruling are tragic to say the least: 

During divorce proceedings, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales, a resident of Castle Rock, Colorado, obtained a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking her, on June 4, 1999, requiring him to remain at least 100 yards (91 m) from her and her four children (son Jesse, who is not Simon’s  biological child, and daughters Rebecca, Katherine, and Leslie) except during specified visitation time. On June 22, at approximately 5:15 pm, Simon took possession of his three daughters in violation of the order. Jessica called the police at approximately 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm, and 10:10 pm on June 22, and 12:15 am on June 23, and visited the police station in person at 12:40 am on June 23. However, since she from time to time had allowed Simon to take the children at various hours, the police took no action, despite Simon having called Jessica prior to her second police call and informing her that he had the daughters with him at an amusement park in Denver, Colorado. At approximately 3:20 am on June 23, Simon appeared at the Castle Rock police station and was killed in a shoot-out with the officers. A search of his vehicle revealed the corpses of the three daughters, whom it has been assumed he killed prior to his arrival. 

Gonzales filed suit against the Castle Rock police department and three of their officers in the U.S. District Court of Colorado claiming they didn’t protect her even though she had a restraining order against her husband. The officers were declared to have “qualified immunity” and thus, couldn’t be sued. But, “a panel of that court… found a procedural due process claim; an en banc rehearing reached the same conclusion.” 

In this case, the government of the town of Castle Rock took the decision against it to the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. and got the procedural due process claim reversed, finding 

The Court’s majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia held that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law; were a mandate for enforcement to exist, it would not create an individual right to enforcement that could be considered a protected entitlement under the precedent of Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth; and even if there were a protected individual entitlement to enforcement of a restraining order, such entitlement would have no monetary value and hence would not count as property for the Due Process Clause.  

Justice David Souter wrote a concurring opinion, using the reasoning that enforcement of a restraining order is a process, not the interest protected by the process, and that there is not due process protection for processes. 

Lozito v. New York City 

This one was saved until the end because, unlike the previous cases, the officer in this one admitted under grand jury testimony that the reason he didn’t come to the aid of Joseph Lozito is because he was scared that Lozito’s attacker had a gun. 

On February 11thMaksim Gelman, started a “spree-killing” by stabbing his stepfather, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, as many as 55 times because he refused to allow Gelman to use his wife’s (Gelman’s mother’s) car. Gelman would end up killing 3 more while injuring 5, the last injured person being Joe Lozito on a northbound 3-train while on his way to work.  

The facts of the Lozito attack are startling: 

“Joseph Lozito, who was brutally stabbed and “grievously wounded, deeply slashed around the head and neck”, sued police for negligence in failing to render assistance to him as he was being attacked by Gelman. Lozito told reporters that he decided to file the lawsuit after allegedly learning from “a grand-jury member” that NYPD officer Terrance Howell testified that he hid from Gelman before and while Lozito was being attacked because Howell thought Gelman had a gun. In response to the suit, attorneys for the City of New York argued that police had no duty to protect Lozito or any other person from Gelman.” 

Lozito had heard of the previous cases stating that the police had “not duty to protect” but decided to go to court representing himself.  

The court would have none of it: 

“On July 25, 2013, Judge Margaret Chan dismissed Lozito’s suit, stating that while Lozito’s account of the attack rang true and appeared “highly credible”, Chan agreed that police had “no special duty” to protect Lozito.” 

As segments of the country continue protesting, rioting and looting as a “response” to the George Floyd killing, and local governments are questioning funding their enforcement agencies, people should retreat a few steps and take a macro view of their “protection services.” While some are rightly railing against police brutality and aggressive policing, they should go back to the beginning and ask whether any of these “fixes” are going to work if the most basic assumption when it comes to “serving and protecting” is a farce.  

If the police are just there as a clean-up crew, or historians after the fact, why not designate them as such. If in the overwhelming amount of cases they get there after a crime has been committed, it’s time to take that 2nd Amendment seriously and remove the barriers that keep many people, especially those in high crime areas, from protecting themselves. “Armed” with the knowledge that those you have falsely believed were there to protect you are in fact serving another purpose, rational individuals should be looking for realistic options when it comes to protecting yourself from any threat that may come your way; public or private. 

Three Ways Not To Analyze COVID-19 Statistics

Three Ways Not To Analyze COVID-19 Statistics

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns continue to cause unprecedented devastation of everyday life in the United States–approximately 100,000 deaths, tens of millions unemployed, and countless plans, activities, and goals put on an indefinite hold.

In this context, news outlets, politicians, and consumers are closely following the trends in the COVID-19 statistics, trying to answer the most pressing questions. Are things getting better or worse in the US? Have we succeeded in the flattening the curve? Are the reopened states seeing a surge in new cases that many have feared?

These are important questions. Unfortunately, much of the reporting on the COVID-19 data obfuscates the underlying reality. In most cases, the problem is not that the reporting is literally false. But it typically focuses on the wrong metrics and fails to account for the severe limitations in the underlying data. The end result is that readers–and perhaps policymakers–come away with a more optimistic or pessimistic understanding than is actually warranted.

With that in mind, here are three errors to watch out for in discussions on COVID-19 data.

1. Focusing on the number of newly reported positive cases

This problem has become more common, particularly since some states have started to reopen. Here are some examples of recent headlines that commit this error:

Virginia Reports Highest One Day Increase in Coronavirus Cases After Gov. Ralph Northam Criticized For Not Wearing Mask – Newsweek, 5/25/2020

Texas sees highest single-day hike in coronavirus deaths, cases – Texas Statesman, 5/14/2020

Intuitively, it seems like the number and trend of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases must be an important number. But by itself, it doesn’t tell us much at all. To properly understand it, we also need to know the number and trend in total COVID-19 tests conducted over the same period.

As an illustrative example, let’s consider two random days of test results from Virginia. All results that follow are originally sourced from The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project:

With these facts alone, it would appear May 25 was a much worse day than April 13 for Virginia when it comes to the coronavirus. Over three times as many people were confirmed as positive. Surely, must mean the virus was spreading wider and was more out of control on May 25–after the reopening–than it was in mid-April during the lockdown, right?

Well, not quite. When we add the context of the number of tests performed and the positivity rate (the rate of positive tests out of total test results reported), a very different picture emerges. See below:

From this, we can see a more compelling explanation for why positive tests on April 13 were so much lower–namely, far fewer tests were conducted.

Based on these figures, there’s very good reason to assume the virus situation was actually worse on April 13. The high rate of positives suggests that they were unable to test enough people. So if they had had enough resources to test all suspected individuals, it’s likely that the number of positives would have been much higher.

But if you only focus on the positive cases, this reality gets completely turned on its head.

A similar version of this general error can be observed in many reports on record increases in daily cases. Confirmed cases are indeed continuing to rise throughout the US. But the good news is that in most places, the total number of tests is rising at an even faster clip.

2. Focusing on the percentage growth rate (or the doubling rate) of confirmed cases

A related analytical error gets made when media outlets report on the percentage growth rate. Examples of this error in the wild can be routinely found in Bloomberg Radio news updates. Last week, they were reporting around a 1.1% increase in cases, which varied slightly depending on the day.

For a print example, I offer this highly neutral take from Willamette Week in Oregon from May 21, “A Rise in COVID-19 Cases in Deschutes County Tests Whether the State Will Close Bars, Restaurants Again. (So Far? No.)”:

The number of COVID-19 cases in Deschutes County has increased over the last seven days. On Wednesday, the county reported nine cases—more cases than it has on any other single day.

 

Those increases raise the question of whether the state will order the county to shut down the bars, restaurants and hair salons that reopened just six days ago…

 

A 5 percent increase in COVID cases is the benchmark the state set for reviewing the status of a county and possibly shuttering it again. [Health Researcher Numi Lee] Griffith pointed to a 27 percent increase in cases in Deschutes County during the week ending May 20. (emphasis added)

This article is interesting for a couple reasons. First, we see that it actually starts out by committing error #1, reporting a record increase of nine cases without providing information about the number of tests.

(Later on, the article even notes that many of the new cases were actually identified proactively through contact-tracing rather than simple symptomatic testing. If anything, that’s actually a positive indication about the county’s preparedness to mitigate the virus, not a cause for alarm.)

But I digress. The key points in the Willamette Week article are that a) Oregon has actually built this metric into its reopening guidelines and b) Deschutes would have violated it with a 27% increase.

The reason people tend to focus on the growth rate (or in some cases, the days-to-doubling) is because we know that the virus naturally spreads at an exponential rate. One person gives it to three people who each give it to three more people and so on.

In theory, the growth rate is useful because it could offer a window into how quickly the virus is spreading currently, and whether the curve has been sufficiently flattened.

But here’s the problem. One of the key features that makes COVID-19 harder to deal with is that many people who contract the virus, experience no symptoms at all. And while this is not entirely proven, it’s generally believed that these asymptomatic individuals are still contagious and thus contribute to the exponential spread of the disease.

The challenge is that testing capacity has been so limited that states have not been able to conduct the kind of widespread random testing that would be needed to identify all of the asymptomatic cases. The other way to plausibly identify all or most asymptomatic cases is through a robust contact-tracing system like that of South Korea or Taiwan. But the US’s capabilities here are still limited. Instead, COVID-19 testing around the country has been prioritized for people with symptoms and healthcare workers.

The upshot of all this is that the growth rate is not a useful proxy for the thing we’re actually trying to measure. What we want to know is the true rate of spread for the virus, in real-time. But due to testing limitations, the growth rate mostly reflects a) the growth rate in testing capacity and b) the growth rate in symptomatic patients.

This error actually cuts in both directions. Early on in the COVID-19 crisis in February–when the CDC was hard at work developing a faulty test and the FDA was simultaneously preventing others from creating a better one–the nation was testing virtually no one. So most metrics looked good.

Then in mid-March as testing capacity finally got built out, the number of positive cases quickly exploded. Positive cases were doubling every two to three days, as this chart shows:

And then, starting in mid-April and continuing to the present, the growth rate and doubling rate slowed back down. Perhaps this can be partly explained by the voluntary precautions and the lockdowns. But clearly, the more important driver is this: While the virus may grow exponentially, US testing capacity does not.

At each point in the process, including today, these metrics have not been meaningful in the US. In March, they offered a belated confirmation that the virus was already spreading widely. And now, they suggest that virus is slowing down, in part because testing capacity can only grow so fast.

3. Citing the case fatality rate as a meaningful statistic

As its name implies, the case fatality rate (CFR) is calculated by taking the total number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 and dividing by the total number of confirmed cases. The calculation is straightforward, and but the result is worse than useless in the case of COVID-19, as we’ll see.

The most high profile example of bad reporting on the CFR comes from the World Health Organization, whose director said this on March 3:

Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.

This shockingly high 3.4% figure was used as one of the reasons to justify widespread lockdowns. And yet, the statement itself offers a clue about the problems with this metric.

In that quote, the WHO is comparing the then-calculated CFR of COVID-19 to the infection fatality rate (IFR) of seasonal influenza. These are not the same metric.

In effect, the CFR is what we can easily observe and calculate. The IFR is what we actually care about, but it’s harder to determine. The difference between the two metrics is the denominator. The CFR divides by total confirmed cases, and the IFR divides by total infections.

Since confirmed cases are a subset of total infections, the CFR will always be higher this the IFR. This doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is the same as the flu. But it does mean that comparing the CFR of one disease to the IFR of another is unlikely to provide useful information.

To be fair, it’s conceivable that the gap between the CFR and IFR will not be significant for some diseases. If there was a well-known disease and widespread testing was available, it’s likely that the number of confirmed cases would approximate the total number of infections and thus the CFR would be close to the IFR. However, this is not remotely true for COVID-19 now, and it was even less true at the beginning of March.

For COVID-19, there have been testing shortages all over the world, with a few exceptions. As a practical matter, this meant that tests were generally prioritized for people with severe symptoms and healthcare workers. This prioritization was necessary to try to treat patients more effectively and reduce spread in the hospital environment. But it also compromises the value of a CFR calculated off the resulting data.

The first problem is selection bias. If you’re primarily testing patients that already had severe symptoms, then the population of confirmed cases is skewed towards those that are going to have worse health outcomes from the disease. In turn, this will systematically push up the CFR.

A related problem is that limited testing obviously means the number of confirmed cases will be far lower than the total number of infections. By contrast, the COVID-19 death count, while imperfect, should at least be less understated. The reason is that some jurisdictions, like the US, now include “probable” cases of COVID-19 in the death counts, even without a confirmed test. Thus, although limited testing will effectively cap the number of confirmed cases reported, it does not cap the number of deaths reported. This reality will also tend to systematically inflate the CFR.

The final problem with the CFR occurs simply because COVID-19 is a new disease, and there’s a significant time lag between when someone contracts the disease and when they might actually pass away as a result. At any given time, some percentage of the total confirmed and active cases, relate to individuals who will eventually die from the disease. This will cause the CFR to be artificially lower than reality (though the effect is diluted as the disease progresses over time).

As we see, the errors in the CFR are considerable. And while they point in different directions, there’s every reason to believe that on net, the CFR significantly overestimates the true lethality rate of COVID-19.

The problem is not that the CFR is literally false. The CFR for COVID-19 is being calculated correctly, it’s just not a meaningful number.

“Follow the Data”

These days, it seems like we are constantly being told by pundits and politicians that we need to “follow the data” when it comes to COVID-19.

By itself, that’s not bad advice. But too often, these people act as though the data provides a script. We just look at the data, put it in our model, and voila! enlightenment rains down upon us.

It would be nice if it worked that way. In reality, “The Data” doesn’t tell us anything. People interpreting the data tell us about their conclusions, and they’re not always right.

How Members Of ‘Gun Culture’ View The Ahmaud Arbery Killing

How Members Of ‘Gun Culture’ View The Ahmaud Arbery Killing

There has been another controversial shooting of an unarmed man. The Ahmaud Arbery case is currently being litigated on social media by the usual suspects who plan on using this to further their “pet” agenda. Whether it be the “law and order” crowd who have their statistics at the ready to copy and paste, or the “race-baiters” who make their living off incidents like this, they are both champing at the bit to make their point. 

At this point, many libertarian/voluntaryists/anarchists may be confused as how to interpret the incident. Some may have already sided with Arbery, and some may be on “Team McMichael.” When you are trying to interpret an incident that happened within a statist framework, it is easy to get your thinking clouded.  

With all of that being said, the libertarian/anarchist/voluntaryist crowd looks to a future where there is no monopoly on force and violence, one where property rights backed by the non-aggression principle are legitimate as opposed to statutory mandates made by elected officials who suffer no consequences for their actions and mistakes; one where customs and cultural norms would be the status quo rather than diktats handed down from above. 

In the case of people grabbing their guns and hunting down someone they suspect of committing a crime, there already exists a subculture in the United States that has unwritten rules when it comes to such incidences which they follow to the letter. This author’s home state of Georgia has one of the largest gun forums on the internet that includes well over 40,000 members. The members overwhelmingly lean conservative and pro-Trump. Some members would call themselves libertarian. There are even a few who fly the democrat banner proudly, yet are adamantly pro-gun rights (yes, weird).  

Before we get into what this author has witnessed as to gun culture’s take on this situation, it is important to point out that the overwhelming majority of these same people took George Zimmerman’s side in the Trayvon Martin case before, during and after. That is good context for what is mentioned going forward. 

‘An Unwritten Rule’ 

“Don’t pull your gun unless you absolutely have to and only to defend life.”  

The “gun culture” in Georgia is strict about this. A man on the forum mentioned above once bragged that he was in downtown Atlanta when a homeless man approached him to beg for change. He crowed that he pulled his gun and waved it at the homeless man causing him to run off. The braggard was subjected to an onslaught of insults. The majority of them mentioned that he was not in fear for his life and that a gun should never be used to intimidate.  

It’s true that just pulling a gun can make a mugger run away. But in the case of serious gun owners we only pull our gun to protect life. If you pull it because of a robbery, you should be justified in pulling the trigger. Choosing to not pull the trigger is fine, your prerogative, but make sure the event justifies deadly force. 

This rule should be important to people who center their thinking and worldview on the non-aggression principle. Threatening and coercing is what the State does. If it’s not appropriate for a State actor, why is it for the individual? 

What Are These People Saying? 

It’s important here to give examples of how most in this subculture are commenting. This first quote is from a former police officer this author has known for years. Mind you, he left the job because he realized he was doing more harm than good. He explains: 

If there is no more to the story then the two should be prosecuted and jailed for life. The guy was clearly not trying to confront them. He runs miles and miles every day and lived nearby. However, one thing gives me pause is that even The NY Times is hedging somewhat. They stated that the man was seen running from inside a home under partial construction, the home owner called 911. BUT even that wouldn’t constitute the use of deadly force in this case. If this was a LEO shoot, he would have been charged.  

Another commenter: 

The kid wasn’t carrying anything. Those two confronted and went looking for a fight. Definitely not justified in my meaningless opinion. Real sad. 

Again: 

Based on that video, the shooters ought not stand in the sunshine anytime soon. But we know what ‘should’ happen and what does happen aren’t always related. 

Encore:  

Maybe he was takin a leak…? I dunno, this d-bag PI wannabe and his kid sound like some straight up cowbois ta me… “citizens arrest”, and armed pursuit lol… I wouldnta stopped either. 

They keep coming: 

I saw zero justification for use of force in that situation regardless of the jogger’s previous actions. This looks to be some straight up redneck justice profiling bull****. One has to wonder if they’d just shot him in the back had he tried to keep running. 

More: 

I don’t give a damn what the circumstance was. Based on the video those scumbags murdered that young man. 

One last comment: 

I prefer to let relevant and current facts determine the circumstance rather than digging up old articles to try and sling mud to make my predilections justified. The fact he was a high school athlete or attended college or what his specific career aspirations were, are irrelevant to the FACT he was unarmed and shot dead by two redneck wanna be cowboys who thought they had an in on the cover up with one of their former bosses the DA. Their plan sucked, now they get to win stupid prizes. Won’t bring him back but he died pretty quickly. They get to sleep with one eye open for a long, long, time… I’m sure they’ll be well received in a south Georgia prison. 

If you happen to be making excuses for the father and son, and the arguments above are being thrown in your direction, you are probably dealing with someone in a subculture with rules that obviously value safety and justice. As a reminder, these aren’t even big “L” Libertarians for the most part, but run of the mill conservatives and constitutionalists. They just have a set of guidelines that they live by and consider those to be more important that what the actual law is, while at the same time, abiding by it. 

Why is this something that libertarians/anarchists/voluntaryists should care about? Those groups seek a society without a central power. Under this structure customs and unwritten rules backed by the non-aggression principle will be the norm. It is beneficial to look at how subcultures, especially ones that are enforcing the NAP without realizing it, now operate. 

It is readily apparent that while many liberty lovers proclaim their support for gun rights, they are ignorant of what the culture is. A lot of people I know don’t own firearms and It is incumbent upon those of us educated on these customs to communicate them properly. They are not vigilantes who if they believe a thief is in our neighborhood will grab their weapons and go on the hunt. No, that is not how it’s done. The idea that you don’t pull your weapon until you absolutely have to exists for the reasons stated above. They are logical, and NAP consistent. People should look at what the McMichaels did, and ask if it would be acceptable to them in a libertarian social order. The ideas behind NAP-based self-defense already exist and are practiced. It would do many who think they know what those in gun culture are all about to spend some time learning from those living it. Your life and freedom in the current society may depend upon it. 

Using Bad Math, Media Claims No State Has Met the Reopening Guidelines on New Cases

Using Bad Math, Media Claims No State Has Met the Reopening Guidelines on New Cases

As the debate over lifting the lockdowns in the US intensifies, key data points on testing and infections are routinely mischaracterized.

Consider this summary from Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday on May 3:

As we said, about half the states — more than half the states have started in some way, shape, or form, reopening. But we’ve crunched the numbers, Doctor, and not a single state has met the White House gating guidelines of two weeks of steady decline in new cases.

It’s not just Fox News that is describing the data in this way. Here’s how NBC News reported it on April 28:

As a handful of states begin to ease stay-at-home restrictions, no state that has opted to reopen has come close to the federally recommended decline in cases over a 14-day period…

 

Some states, such as Colorado and Kentucky, have reported fewer new cases in the past week. But no single state has had a two-week decline in case numbers.

The guidelines being referenced here are the White House’s “Opening Up America Guidelines”. The document offers criteria in three different areas that states should meet before reopening, but the reports above are focused only on the standards related to new cases. These are the official criteria on new infections:

Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period

 

OR

 

Downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests)

So what’s going on here? Is it really true that no state in the US is on the down-slope of the COVID-19 crisis?

No, it’s not.

In fact, a quick analysis of publicly available data shows that a full 40 states met one of the suggested criterion on new cases as of May 2. (Specifically, 22 meet the documented cases criterion and 37 states fit the alternative positive test percentage criterion.)

The disconnect arises because the White House guidelines don’t directly spell out the calculation they have in mind when they ask for a “downward trajectory” within a 14-day period. Instead, different people apply their own calculation and reach different conclusions about the exact same data and exact same guidelines.

Worse still, the media outlets cited above are choosing to interpret the guidelines in a way that will be very difficult for any state to meet prior to outright eradication of COVID-19.

As Chris Wallace says in the quote, no state has had a steady decline in new cases over a two week period. If we assume a “steady decline” would require that a state report fewer (or flat) new cases every day compared to the prior day, then this is technically true. But it’s also a really bad standard to use when dealing with data that is expected to have natural variation from day-to-day.

To see how this fails in practice, consider the state of Alaska. As of May 2, this is what Alaska’s last 14 days of test results looked like, using data from the COVID Tracking Project:

Alaska Daily Cases

In total, Alaska had 51 new cases over the two-week period that ended on May 2 out of nearly 12,000 people tested, for a positivity rate of under 0.5%. Even accounting for Alaska’s smaller population, this data strongly suggests that Alaska has the virus reasonably under control. (For comparison, New Jersey’s stats over this same period was around 42,000 new positive cases and a 42% positivity rate.)

That said, under the “steady decline” standard used by Fox (and NBC*), it would still fail. May 1 saw cases jump from 0 to 9, and broke a 2-day streak of declines. As it happens, the previous day with 0 positive cases also had 0 total tests, highlighting the extreme volatility in daily testing data at a state level. These types of wild fluctuations in daily test counts mean that any daily calculation is bound to be unreliable.

Alaska’s data also shows us why this standard requires almost complete eradication before it can be met. During this period, Alaska had one day (April 25) with 0 positive test results in spite of many new tests being run. Thus, if they were to report even 1 new case in the next 13 days, it would still fail to meet the extreme “steady decline” standard. Clearly, this is not a reasonable requirement and is also not the intent behind the reopening guidelines.

The more appropriate way to do this calculation is to compare the total results from two sequential two-week periods against each other. This prevents volatility in any single day  from distorting the result, and provides a much better picture of the trend. Here’s what the results look like for Alaska under those conditions:

Alaska 2 Week Cases

In this view, we can see that, while Alaska never experienced much of a spike, its cases do appear to be on the decline. Despite tripling the number of new tests, they still reported fewer cases. The positivity rate shows a precipitous drop accordingly.

Stepping back from the details of Alaska, we can see this same trend play out across numerous other states. The table below shows the key data points for all states for the last two sequential two-week periods using the approach I discussed above. It also identifies which states would currently meet the case component of the White House reopening guidelines based on those results:

All State 2 Week Analysis

Of course, none of this means that the White House reopening guidelines are a good standard, nor that the lockdown policies are even desirable in the first place.

But, if journalists and public officials are going to treat these guidelines as a reasonable standard for phasing out the lockdowns, it’s important to get the math right.

 

*Note: The NBC article cited above includes a correction indicating that they misstated the guidelines as requiring daily declines. But even though they changed some of the wording in their article, they apparently didn’t rerun the analysis and still concluded no states met the guidelines. That is not true now, and it was not true at the time of their article.

This Market Never Closes

This Market Never Closes

It is perfectly fine to be afraid that you or a loved one will catch a potentially life-threatening virus, and at the same time deride the government’s reaction, especially when it comes to shutting down a significant portion of the economy. That section consists of mostly the service sector, but even then, the government has chosen which services are “essential” and which are not. The consumer has been given no say in this, and in many cases, has been barred from purchasing certain items from stores the state has deemed worthy of continuing to operate.  

As of this date, the states have been inundated with 22 million new unemployment claims due to government mandates upon said businesses. The lasting impact of preventing millions of people from generating income may not be realized for months, even years, but for right now we see politicians scrambling to find a way to placate the masses that they are responsible for putting out of work, and almost certainly, destroying any savings they may have accumulated. The $1,200 “hush money” hasn’t hit many bank accounts yet and there is already talk of turning this into a $2,000-a-month “stimulus check” for the unforeseeable future.  

The question has been asked many times in the last month as to whether this reaction is worth it. Many have queried as to whether the resulting economic devastation would be warranted if Covid-19 could potentially end 250,000 lives. How about a million? Or two million? These questions will continue to be asked, and those who are adamantly in favor of locking everything down will persist in accusing those who don’t of wanting to kill grandma.  

Many have argued, especially since the election of Donald Trump, that there are two Americas warring against each other and that only a great threat could bring people together. Those people were dead wrong. In the face of people suffering from a Novel Coronavirus it is business-as-usual for the left/right paradigm warriors.   

But some people have no time for that. Many have entered the only truly “free market” to serve, or continue serving, their fellow men and women. The Agora stands up against these intrusions into the market and provides for those needs that State interference has caused a shortage in. Whether it be the “gray market,” which straddles the line between “legal” and “illegal,” or the “black market,” which provides those things governments strictly forbid, there is no stopping the entrepreneur who sees a societal want or need, and rushes to meet it. 

A Shortage of Masks 

When it became apparent that masks were going to be useful, if not mandated, to prevent the transmission of Covid-19, many rushed to Amazon or their local medical supply store and drained their inventory, which, if we’re being honest, are not normally an item in high demand outside of certain professions.  

By the time the “experts” in government finally admitted that masks would help prevent the spread of the virus — after saying for weeks they would not — they were all but gone from most inventories. The Agora would not allow that to stand. Etsy.com became one of the main outlets for many home designers and seamstresses to meet a market demand while replacing the income the government has prevented them from earning.  

The 3D-printing crowd even joined in with their own do-it-yourself designs, and have impressed the State’s monopoly so much that the FDA has taken to approving their first reusable 3D-designed PPE.   

Protecting and Feeding Yourself in a Pandemic 

Former White House chief-of-staff to Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, was famously quoted as saying, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Many politicians have taken that advice to heart in the era of Covid-19.  

When Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, handed down his dictates for how his state was going to be dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, he originally mandated that gun stores would be considered “essential” businesses. On April 1st he reversed that ruling effectively leaving citizens devoid of their 2nd Amendment rights.  

Given that we now live in a world where 3D printers can be ordered off of Amazon and delivered to your doorstep in a matter of days, and the files to print everything from AR-15 lower receivers and various Glock frames are free for download on many sites including torrents, one may ask why the State even bothers anymore. The “gun control debate” has ended. The ruling class either hasn’t figured it out yet, or they’re keeping up appearances for “anti-gun Karen.” 

One silent war that has played out, most famously in Michigan, is the banning of seeds being sold even in stores that remain open. There are many theories as to why people would be prevented from gardening on their property in a global pandemic but that is a discussion for another time.  

But, once again, the market provides as sellers on eBay are happy to pick up that business and most aren’t even selling them at a premium. 

Entertainment 

This one took several texts and direct messages to get a grasp on but it seems the “black market” in areas where certain substances people like to put into their bodies are “illegal” has not slowed down one bit. Cannabis, for example, is readily available in most areas that were surveyed and a few people mentioned that cannabis, and other drugs such as MDMA, have helped them get through the boredom the lockdown has wrought upon so many.  

No one in Appalachia was asked but this author assumes that his mom’s family has not abandoned their stills and are providing clear liquor to their town as they have done for over 100 years. Yes, the market provides even when the state forbids it. 

The states have done something unprecedented in the last month that has caused not only material loss for countless millions, but potential psychological damage that has led to self-harm and abuse of family members. Shortages of many staple items has been rampant and have led people to improvise or go without. But the true market, the “gray and black,” have been there for people’s needs. They are always there when government interferes in the lives of the people and they are ever present, and contributing, when those empires fall. The person who looks upon these heroes with scorn and derision has made a choice to champion monopoly over innovation. Please remember these entrepreneurs the next time the state deprives you of wants and needs. 

FDR, Demagogue Champion of Leviathan and War

FDR, Demagogue Champion of Leviathan and War

Sunday was the 75th anniversary of the death of Franklin Roosevelt.  Roosevelt was sainted by the media even before he died in 1945. CNN last week trumpeted FDR as “the wartime president who Trump should learn from.” A 2019 survey of historians ranked FDR as the third greatest president. President George H.W. Bush praised him for having “brilliantly enunciated the 20th-century vision of our Founding Fathers’ commitment to individual liberty.”

Roosevelt did often invoke freedom, but almost always as a pretext to increase government power. FDR proclaimed in 1933: “We have all suffered in the past from individualism run wild.” Naturally, the corrective was to allow government to run wild.

FDR declared in his first inaugural address: “We now realize… that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership can become effective.” The military metaphors, which practically called for the entire populace to march in lockstep, were similar to rhetoric used by European dictators at the time.

Roosevelt declared in a 1934 fireside chat: “I am not for a return of that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of the privileged few.” Politicians like FDR began by telling people that control of their own lives was a mirage; thus, they lost nothing when government took over. In his re-nomination acceptance speech at the 1936 Democratic Party convention, Roosevelt declared that “the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties . . . created a new despotism. . . . The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor—these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship.” But if wages were completely dictated by the “industrial dictatorship”—why were pay rates higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world, and why had pay rates increased rapidly in the decades before 1929? FDR never considered limiting government intervention to safeguarding individual choice; instead, he multiplied “government-knows-best” dictates on work hours, wages, and contracts.

On January 6, 1941, Roosevelt gave his famous “Four Freedoms” speech, promising citizens freedom of speech, freedom of worship—and then he got creative: “The third [freedom] is freedom from want… everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear . . . anywhere in the world.” Proclaiming a goal of freedom from fear meant that the government henceforth must fill the role in daily life previously filled by God and religion. FDR’s list was clearly intended as a “replacement set” of freedoms, since otherwise there would have been no reason to mention freedom of speech and worship, already guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Roosevelt’s new freedoms liberated government while making a pretense of liberating the citizen. FDR’s list offered citizens no security from the State, since it completely ignored the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment (to keep and bear firearms), the Fourth Amendment (freedom from unreasonable search and seizure), the Fifth Amendment (due process, property rights, the right against self-incrimination), the Sixth Amendment (the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury), the Eighth Amendment (protection against excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments).

FDR perennially glorified government as the great liberator of the common man. In a 1936 message to Congress, he denounced his critics: “They realize that in 34 months we have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a people’s government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic autocracy such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people.” Because FDR proclaimed that the federal government was a “people’s government,” good citizens had no excuse for fearing an increase in government power. The question of liberty became totally divorced from the amount of government power—and instead depended solely on politicians’ intent toward the governed. The mere fact that the power was in the hands of benevolent politicians was the only safeguard needed.

Roosevelt sometimes practically portrayed the State as a god. In his 1936 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he declared, “In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity.” In 1937, he praised the members of political parties for respecting “as sacred all branches of their government.” In the same speech, Roosevelt assured listeners, in practically Orwellian terms, “Your government knows your mind, and you know your government’s mind.” For Roosevelt, faith in the State was simply faith in his own wisdom and benevolence. Roosevelt’s concept of the State is important because he radically expanded the federal government— and most of the programs he created survive to this day.

FDR declared in 1938, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” Did  Japanese-Americans round themselves up for concentration camps in 1942, or what?  Did the people who owned the gold that FDR forcibly confiscated in 1933 secretly will that they be stripped of any defense against the inflation that FDR intentionally ignited?

FDR’s perpetual deceits on domestic policy are grudgingly recognized by some scholars but his brazen lying on foreign policy has not received its due. in 1940, in one of his final speeches of the presidential campaign, Roosevelt assured voters, “Your president says this country is not going to war.”  But FDR was working around-the-clock to pull the United States into World War Two. Once the U.S. was engaged in fighting both Germany and Japan, FDR was determined to demand unconditional surrender from both nations. That demand severely undercut German generals who were reaching out to strike a deal with the Allies that would have toppled Hitler much earlier than April 1945. Thomas Fleming’s The New Dealers War vividly explains how FDR’s war demands perpetuated the fighting and cost the lives of far more Americans, Germans, and others.

Two months before he died, FDR met Stalin and Churchill for the infamous Yalta conference.  Roosevelt had previously praised Soviet Russia as one of the “freedom-loving Nations” and stressed that Stalin is “thoroughly conversant with the provisions of our Constitution.” FDR agreed with Stalin at Yalta to move the border of the Soviet Union far to the west—thereby effectively conscripting 11 million Poles into Soviet citizenship.

Poland was “compensated” with a huge swath of Germany, a simple cartographic change that spurred vast human carnage. As author R.M. Douglas noted in his 2012 book Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans After the Second World War, the result was “the largest episode of forced migration… in human history. Between 12 million and 14 million German-speaking civilians – the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and children under 16 -were forcibly ejected from their places of birth in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the western districts of Poland.” At least half a million died as a result. George Orwell denounced the “relocation” as an “enormous crime” that was “equivalent to transplanting the entire population of Australia.” Philosopher Bertrand Russell protested: “Are mass deportations crimes when committed by our enemies during war and justifiable measures of social adjustment when carried out by our allies in time of peace?”

In a private conversation at Yalta, FDR assured Stalin that he was feeling “more bloodthirsty” than when they’d previously met. Immediately after the Yalta conference concluded, the British and American air forces turned Dresden into an inferno, killing up to 50,000 civilians. The Associated Press reported that “Allied air bosses” had engaged in the “deliberate terror bombing of great German population centers as ruthless expedient to hasten Hitler’s doom.” Ravaging Dresden was intended to “‘add immeasurably’ to FDR’s strength in negotiating with the Russians at the postwar peace table,” as historian Thomas Fleming noted.

Almost all the tributes to FDR this month have omitted his dictatorial tendencies or his bloodthirsty warring. There were good reasons why Friedrich Hayek labeled FDR as “the greatest of modern demagogues.” The canonization of Franklin Roosevelt is a reminder to Americans to beware of any “lessons of history” touted by an establishment media that is vested in the perpetuation of Leviathan and all its prerogatives.

Evil Blossoms Where Conscience Shrinks: The Unforgivable Tragedy of Bush’s Iraq War II

Evil Blossoms Where Conscience Shrinks: The Unforgivable Tragedy of Bush’s Iraq War II

During Iraq War II (2003–2011), in addition to thousands of American soldiers and contractors who died, more than 100,000 Iraq civilians were killed. This number is consistent with independent counts as well as leaked Pentagon data (sources available at Wikipedia). However, more sophisticated studies which combined data sets and methodologies from multiple independent efforts have produced a total estimate of deaths (from 2003-2018) of 1.5-3.4 million people. This does not count the combatants who died fighting against what many consider to have been a foreign invader conducting an illegal occupation (or those fighting in unavoidable civil conflict caused by the invasion).

There’s no question about this war being a massive human tragedy, a catastrophe of choice, a milestone of unholy slaughter in the early history of the 21st century. This slaughter is intimately associated with the leader who started it: George W. Bush. The question remains, how could one man be so evil?

Bush’s guilt can be evaluated by examining his motives. Why did he do it? Did he really believe that WMDs were in Iraq? Did he want to avenge his daddy? There is in fact a clear answer to this question.

The purpose of the Iraq war was to flex American muscle. The neoconservative vision of American hegemony seeks to use American military power to enforce its desired policies abroad. Neocons believe that if the military is never used in pursuit of American policy objectives then it’s a waste of money and a sign of weakness that would invite predators of their ilk from other powers to prey on the so-called free world. In the post-Cold War environment where America had emerged as the world’s sole superpower, Iraq was the ideal opportunity to show the world that America means business. This rationale is cold, cynical and indifferent; neoconservatism is a policy position, possessing a realist morality that washes its hands of any concern for common people.

According to neoconservatism, the harm caused to common people by military intervention is morally unimportant. Neoconservatives believe that people who live in geopolitical problem areas would face moral deprivations from their own bad governments anyway. They believe that it doesn’t matter – really – whether one dies by Saddam Hussein’s secret police, or by an American bomb. To neoconservatives, the world is a better place when America is in charge. With a single rationalization, neocons willfully exclude concern for common people from their policy formulations.

The cynical moral view of Neoconservatism is consistent with Hannah Arendt’s notion of, “The banality of evil.” This phrase comes from a book Arendt wrote about the Jerusalem crimes against humanity trial of Holocaust facilitator Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer who coordinated the logistics of moving populations of Jews into eastern camps. In the book, she points out how average Eichmann was. He did not possess high intelligence and lived his life as a joiner. He was not particularly anti-Semitic, showed no signs of psychopathy and generally got along well with other people. He had carried out his role in the Holocaust purely out of a quiet commitment to his bureaucratic duty in the larger society in which he took part. Arendt calls evil banal because it is, in this case, neither a product of psychopathic or hateful intent nor can the mild-mannered conduct of Eichmann be remotely morally justified. In the end, Arendt claims that Eichmann’s evil is connected to his profound moral stupidity.

Hannah Arendt’s analysis of Eichmann’s moral status provides insight into George W. Bush’s moral guilt.

With perhaps over a million innocents dead because of a policy-driven, unnecessary war, Bush has the status of a moral monster. Yet, Bush’s evil is particularly banal. This kind of evil would not be recognized by its vicious fangs or wicked scowl. It is an evil that is unassuming, bungling even. Preventing this kind of person from having power requires special attention to what makes them so evil.

In 2013, Ron Fournier penned an article in The Atlantic arguing that George W. Bush was a good man. During a 2002 press conference, Mr. Fournier and a colleague stood to mark Bush’s entrance to the room, while other journalists and foreign press remained seated in smug protest. Bush handwrote a note to each man, thanking them for at least honoring the dignity of the office of the Presidency. Bush was known for small gestures of respect, from punctuality, to requiring a simple dress code for the Oval Office. Fournier argues that Bush had a sense of decency, not wanting to interrupt Fournier’s family time for an interview, for example, and also taking time to visit with the families of slain soldiers.

It seems incredible that a man guilty of such crimes against humanity could be perceived as decent. This represents a clue to understanding banal evil. The gestures to which Ron Fournier refer hardly absolve George W. Bush of his status as a possible moral monster, but they do hint at the possibility that Bush has some sort of moral compass. What’s the relationship between Bush’s crimes and that compass? If Bush truly has any sense of decency, how could he have launched the Iraq War? Philosophy can provide an answer.

Stanford University’s philosophy department runs an online encyclopedia of philosophical definitions. One entry discusses the conscience, or moral compass.

Through our individual conscience, we become aware of our deeply held moral principles, we are motivated to act upon them, and we assess our character, our behavior and ultimately our self against those principles.

Conscience involves one’s own self-awareness of one’s deeply held principles. Being aware of some moral principles does not imply that one would be aware of all possible moral principles. Everyone has a unique moral self-identity, a sense of what’s right and good, and a sense of where one stands on the spectrum of good and evil. Conscience is a connective tissue. It relates the moral principles in which one believes, to one’s perception of one’s own identity. Through conscience, one constructs a sense of identity out of chose moral principles. A moral compass serve not only to guide choices, it also is a tool for self-reflection.

Our moral beliefs also contribute to how we perceive others. We judge others based on where we believe they stand on the spectrum of good and evil, and in some cases we use our perception of others to reflect back on our own sense of moral identity.

More recent psychological studies have suggested that people tend to link the identity of others not so much to their memories, as traditionally believed, but to their morals: it is the loss of one’s moral character and moral beliefs, rather than of one’s memory, that leads us to say that a certain individual is not the same person anymore (Strohminger and Nichols 2015). These findings provide empirical support to the idea that conscience is essential to one’s sense of personal identity and to attributions of personal identity.

According to the psychological research discussed above, one’s sense of identity can have less to do with actual actions, and more to do with one’s chosen moral beliefs. If someone could associate their own identity with the identity of others holding a particular moral worldview, then one could calibrate their moral compass to reflect differently on their own life. If you tie your identity to those you morally admire, you can partially absolve yourself of a degree of moral accountability. You concede moral responsibility to a larger group, which also means conceding moral reasoning – including feelings of guilt or accountability – to that group. When confronted with the guilt of your particular actions, you simply defend the tribe’s power, and ignore morality.

In recent years, George W. Bush has taken up painting at a hobby. This past autumn, some of Bush’s paintings were displayed at an exhibit at the Kennedy Center. These painting featured scenes of America’s military veterans, including many wounded warriors. This Portraits of Courage exhibit demonstrates Bush’s quiet obsession with the men and women wounded in wars, many of whom he sent off to fight.

Command Sergeant Major Brian Flom was wounded in the face by a rocket attack in Iraq in 2007.

“‘That was the easy part,’ he said, standing beside a painting in which he appears with fellow military personnel, one of dozens of works on display at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

“‘The challenging part was the TBI [traumatic brain injury] and the post-traumatic stress that accompanied a lot of time spent in a combat zone.’

“Recovery is ‘still going on – it’s an everyday process, right, and some days are better than others.’

“Flom was selected to go on a mountain bike ride with Bush in 2015 and has now met him ‘many times,’ including dinner at the former president’s house.

“Bush ‘decided one day to paint people that he had a connection with and meant something to him, and here I am.’

Bush is spending his retirement connecting to the people who were wounded in wars. This connection is interesting, because it relates to the perceived moral identity of these people. These paintings are a way for Bush to tie his identity to the moral status of veterans.

Bush’s painting hobby began much earlier. Infamous among leaked images of the former president’s early paintings are bizarre self-portraits of the man in the bathtub and shower. The images portrayed are toes sticking up from the water, and also one in which the back of his head is shown, his face barely appearing in a mirror. These paintings show a sense of detachment, unclear identity, and a desire to wash away something unclean.

It’s possible that ‘W’ himself has been facing a small crisis of conscience, and uncertainty about his own moral identity, spurred by a sense of moral guilt. The paintings might have been a therapy, to concretize the feelings. As he developed the hobby, Bush sought to relate to the moral identity of the soldiers he admired. 

By connecting to the moral values of those who sacrificed themselves in war, Bush heals his own guilt. Bush is guilty of crimes against decency, by ordering a war – he is a warmonger. However, wounded veterans have a different perceived moral relationship to war. War provides veterans with honor through valor. Their sacrifices are interpreted as a form of service to the greater society. By connecting to an identity that valorizes war, Bush can reframe the relationship of his own identity to war.

Starting a war made Bush into a monster, so he seeks to heal his conscience by surrounding himself with those his war has made into heroes.

It’s pathetic that a man who held as much power as George W. Bush would attempt to free ride off of the moral status of those his wars has harmed, all to make himself feel a little better about himself. Showing some love to a few veterans couldn’t hardly make up for the pain Bush caused. Yet, all that matters in this case is Bush’s own sense of identity in the context of his own moral values. Evil doesn’t usually take the form of a comic book villain. A person can have a sense of decency, a moral compass, commit acts of compassion, possess empathy, and still be evil. To diagnose Bush’s evil, one has to first examine the history of his moral self-identity.

During the campaign for the 2000 Presidential Election, the Washington Post ran an article exploring Bush’s youth, his past and his values. George W. Bush’s simple and idealistic view of his own father, George Herbert Walker, seems to have been the anchor of his worldview.

Today, of course, Bush has embarked on trying to duplicate his father’s greatest accomplishment – becoming president of the United States. Relationships between fathers and sons are never simple, but the close parallels between their two careers, Bush’s fierce loyalty to his father and his thin skin whenever his father is criticized suggest something particularly complex.

Bush 41 was a paragon of moral rectitude to 43. 43’s sense of right and wrong was entirely received from his father, with very little personal effort devoted to developing his own independent view of the world.

One of the things that Bush often talked about was his family, especially his father. Several of the Bonesmen said Bush described him in ‘almost God-like’ terms.

“‘I can remember one instance of him using his Dad as an example of resilience, saying my father had a great disappointment in not winning the Senate seat, but this is what you do, you bounce back. So you’re down, you just get back up. His attitude was you gave it your best shot. And he used his dad to show this,’ recalled Robert McCallum, now an Atlanta lawyer.”

Even Bush Sr.’s position on war was uncontroversial, simply correct to Jr.

“‘He believed that his father’s position was correct – we’re involved, so we should support the national effort rather than protest it,’ recalled Robert J. Dieter, a Yale roommate for four years who is now a clinical professor of law at the University of Colorado.

George W. Bush was a social creature, but he didn’t seem to be a boundary pusher. His time at Andover private school showed him to be extroverted.

Within months of his arrival, Bush was seen as a campus mover, not on the strength his intellect or his athletic achievements, but by sheer force of personality. Bush was nicknamed ‘Lip’ because he had an opinion on everything – and sometimes a tongue sharper than necessary.”

At Yale, he partied, but not too hard.

“‘George was a fraternity guy, but he wasn’t Belushi in ‘Animal House,’’ recalled Calvin Hill, who was in DKE with Bush and went on to play professional football. ‘He went through that stage in his life with a lot of joy, but I don’t remember George as a chronic drunk. He was a good-time guy. But he wasn’t the guy hugging the commode at the end of the day.’” 

Bush was known to think of others, and act according to an internal sense of dignity.

Like his father, Bush could display good breeding along with his rough Texas edges. Several former classmates recall him going door to door with a sympathy card for a classmate from the West Indies – one of the few blacks on campus – who had lost his mother. Another classmate who hailed from a public school said he was struck by Bush’s efforts to reach out beyond his social circle.”

Bush, a famous Skull and Bones member, was a joiner.

“‘George moved seamlessly among all the different groups,’ recalled Ken Cohen, today a dentist in Georgia. At the same time, Cohen noted, ‘he was a Bush and he had a sense of who he was … his family tradition. He was not a rebel.’”

During the chaotic years of the Vietnam War protests, Bush seemed unphased. His attitude was conventional and maybe even disinterested.

In a recent interview, Bush said he has no recollection of any anti-war activity on campus during his undergraduate years – an extraordinary statement considering that [Reverend] Coffin was by then a leader of the national anti-war movement and was arrested for aiding and abetting draft resistance during Bush’s senior year.

Altogether, the portrait of George W. Bush painted by his history is very clear. He was a relatively simple man, uninterested in the depths of political thought. He respected his father and upheld him as the quintessential example of what respectable thought and behavior looked like, but he himself never deeply considered what that meant. He was a social guy, a clear extrovert, but hardly a remarkable social presence.

Bush was a boring guy. Friendly, social, possessing a mild sense of dignity, but ultimately having a forgettable character. He held a belief that morality and respectability were important, because of his father, but he never deeply examined the question beyond this conviction.

As a regular man, Bush was not a monster, but neither was he a giant. He was kind of a chump, a man who does have a conscience, but one about which nothing special can be said. He took all of his moral cues from his social superiors. Bush is a lot like Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann was described as a profoundly average man of profoundly average intelligence. His intellectual conception of the world relied on clichés and official bromides. He deferred his moral thinking in all things to the system and his superiors. He had no particular interest in these questions himself and no real ability to generate his own personal insights about them. He was a joiner and liked to belong to groups where others could feed him a sense of identity and meaning. When he noticed his social betters endorsing seemingly evil plans, he consoled himself that as a lesser man this surely absolved him personally of any guilt. Consequently, he hardly had any guilt. Eichmann even bragged about what he did, oversold his own role, valuing notoriety and his sense of belonging — to Nazi social circles which no longer existed. He was able to live in the moral worldview of those he admired, unwilling to exercise any meaningful personal conscientiousness. He believed that conceding moral responsibility to others was a good enough excuse to absolve himself of personal moral accountability.

George W. Bush does possess a sense of guilt, or at least a little regret. He has at least some moral injury and seems to seek to heal it. As a simple person, his paintings and meetings with soldiers seem sufficient as therapy. Bush’s moral worldview permits him to feel guilt, just not in proportion to the great evil he has perpetrated. Bush’s evil lies with the fact that he is a man who is capable of guilt and regret, who is not a psychopath, but who is simultaneously able to remain completely unconcerned or uninterested in the trauma his choices have caused in millions of innocent lives.

Bush’s guilt recalls the fictional Colonel in Apocalypse Now who burned down a village in order to go surfing. Despite the monstrosity of the act, this colonel goes out of his way to provide water and empathetic comfort to a mortally wounded Viet Cong soldier. While the Colonel here is no Eichmann level mental midget, the literary metaphor refers to selective morality driven by contrived moral self-identity. It is an absurdist take on evil, but banal evil is somewhat absurd.

Bush’s evil is not the product of a person with a wicked heart. Rather, like Eichmann, Bush’s evil is a product of his stupidity. As a profoundly average man, a joiner who never questions much and concedes all moral and intellectual accountability to his social superiors, Bush simply allowed evil to happen. He is accountable for this, he is deeply guilty. However, his moral self-identity will never process that guilt. He is capable of understanding that his war has harmed brave soldiers whose lives he values, but because the world of his social and intellectual superiors – his father, the writers at National Review – does not care about Iraqi lives, neither does Bush. Make no mistake, this is profoundly evil, a profound moral lapse. Yet, the cause is Bush’s profoundly average nature. 

Bush is worse than a monster, he is middling.

Altogether, George W. Bush’s conscience stands as a refutation of the Great Man or chieftain theory of national leadership. Conscience is a powerful force within humans. However, conscience is not built to bear the guilt of a nation. Conscience doesn’t process the magnitude of suffering caused by war. There’s a reason why it is said that one death is a tragedy, but one million deaths is a statistic.

Gut instinct, the heart and the individual conscience alone are not sufficient tools to evaluate the propriety of a given war. Humans are not qualified to make moral judgments of this magnitude. It’s making Sophie’s Choice a million times over for people we’ll never know. It is above our pay grade. 

Instead, we humans should seek to avoid war, and pour our wealth and energy into actions which serve as alternatives to war. We should never trust human authority figures to have the moral capacity to make reasonable, good judgments about when to go to war or not.

In my opinion, Eichmann’s banal evil is actually a prototype for all evil. Men like Eichmann and Bush exemplify evil in its purest form. Humans are moral beings, and the concession of moral responsibility to others is the greatest form of surrender of which a human soul is capable. The social superiors who created the monstrous policy in which Bush and Eichmann merely operated — they may be smarter, more psychopathic — nevertheless are guilty of the same banality. They all hold a middling moral self-identity, and their moral world view is held deliberately narrow. 

Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz all. They all have a little Bush in them. Joiners, team members. The idea that sweet cool ninja spec-ops teams will solve world social problems is stupidity. The idea that you can start a little war, make some oil bucks in Iraq, then just move on is willful ignorance of the condition of and dynamics affecting other people. Thinking that a mere purple-fingered election will make immediate, deep changes to a centuries-old culture — more stupidity, on its face!

I’d be inclined to think that the truly wicked — the real psychopaths — tend to fit into the world with the rest of us much better than the idiots. They’re usually smart enough to know the limits, to understand that you have to pretend to be good around most people most of the time to get by in life. This type will order quiet assassinations, wipe villages off of maps in ways such that no one would notice. They’re the types that quietly execute the Salvador Option, and for better or worse restore stable conditions without history noticing. They’re evil too, they’re insidious, but their impact is less.

The truly evil who kill millions are always bungling idiots. Bush, the tantrum throwing Hitler types, the self-satisfied Roosevelts of history, joiner Truman, bone-brained Mao — all a bunch of morons, smug Idi Amins, who caused immense damage every time they were allowed to set policy direction in lieu of their subordinates. These subordinates, evil psychopaths like Curtis LeMay, or Reinhard Heydrich, they never started any wars, they didn’t appoint themselves, they didn’t carry out their own orders. Psychopathy limits itself. The stupid idiots, the banal evil, is what gives license to psychopathy.

Hitler was a self-aggrandizing, bungling chump. Eichmann was a midget of a man. Heydrich was evil, but his evil needed Hitler and Eichmann. LeMay bombed 1 million Japanese to death, but he needed Truman and the naïve, ever unrepentant farm-boy pilots on both sides of his psychopathy. Psychopathy is the seed of evil, but stupidity is the fertile ground in which it grows.

In Bush’s mind, he did the best job he could as president of an America which he views as an always good country, which has to fight wars sometimes. In his heart, he regrets that people he respects faced harm. He surrounds himself with people that are in all ways better than him, the soldiers he sacrificed. He feeds off of their valor to heal his moral injury. Yet, there seems to be very little concern in his heart for the true victims of his wars – the hundreds of thousands of dead innocents from foreign lands. Bush is an average man whose conscience is not equipped to conceive of that guilt. He is profoundly evil, because he is stupid.

The only justice Bush will ever face must come from the lessons we learn from him. One lesson stands out. Only idiots start wars. Another is that evil blossoms where conscience shrinks and shirks.

Why Do We Trust Politicians to Run Our Lives?

Why Do We Trust Politicians to Run Our Lives?

I became a journalist because I love to write.

In fact, most people tend to pursue career paths related to things that interest them if they have any choice in the matter. A person who likes to bake might become a baker. A person who likes numbers might become an accountant. A person who loves animals and biology might become a veterinarian.

So, what does a person who likes to control other people do?

Become a politician. read more…

Liberty and Slavery

Liberty and Slavery

Among the common beliefs of libertarians, opposition to slavery is one of the least controversial. Yet, the moral argument against slavery is one of libertarian philosophy’s most enlightening topics. Considering the “why” of libertarian opposition to slavery is profoundly instructive. Libertarianism approaches the question of individual rights in a unique way. 

In my opinion, the cornerstone of libertarian philosophy lies with its answer to the is-ought dichotomy presented in David Hume’s skepticism. From the far right, idealism is an absolute that tramples upon those who are different. From the far left, anti-idealism destroys morality, community and tradition – leaving behind an unprincipled bureaucracy that tramples in the name of expediency and arbitrary intellectual fashions. The best course lies with a balance, where absolute idealism and subjectivity exist only in context with one another. This context can only be found within the individual mind.  Morality, therefore, is a product of individuals reconciling the rational and emotional within themselves, and then confronting the consequent social reality. Libertarianism proposes a social environment where personal morality is respected and reconciling the individual right to moral self-determination between people with different beliefs and ideas is the core principle of politics.

The reconciliation of is and ought was a project of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the school of Common Sense (Thomas Reid). This school was heavily influential among the French liberals who later influenced both Bastiat and eventually the Austrian school of economics. The Common Sense school also served as the intellectual and religious foundation of New England’s revolutionary liberty movement. 

The American revolution must be seen as an alliance between Virginia old England aristocrats, seeking to maintain ancient yeoman rights, and New English Christian anarchists who possessed a religious ideal of human liberty. The former felt that society’s rights were protected in its Anglo-Saxon traditions and were to be defended existing, enlightened aristocratic social structures. They conceived of the US Constitution’s form without perceiving a need for enumerated rights. The State was the political society – the tobacco lords and their custom of mutual political equality. Jefferson broadened the notion by conceiving of a yeoman farmer class related to a romanticized vision of England’s past and Virginia’s present. 

New England, on the other hand, saw individual rights as derivative of holy truths discerned by the heights of enlightenment and Christian thought. They demanded the Bill of Rights.

The school of Common Sense led to a short-lived tradition within British liberal Christianity which held that science and religion must, according to the nature of each, exist in perfect harmony. If science and religion stood in contradiction, it meant that the interpretation of evidence or scripture must somehow be flawed. Out of this thinking, the Common Sense school developed a sophisticated moral science with an extensive vocabulary describing a person’s moral duties in the context of unalienable rights given by God. As science and religion ultimately diverged in the late 19th century, this philosophy fell out of favor.

Common Sense philosophy and the moral ‘science’ of the so-called Christian Enlightenment should be more widely appreciated within libertarian community. The content of this ‘science’ applies to modern questions, so long as one possesses a key to interpret the religious concepts in secular terms. This isn’t very difficult to accomplish, since the Christian Enlightenment was already quite ameliorable to science.

The question of is-ought is simply a question of mind and soul. Reason and emotion. The answers of the Common Sense school are self-evidently superior, and the reason for its decline in popularity is clear.  The question of soul and mind is one philosophy grappled with, using great energy, for two hundred years before the question was finally swept aside by the great and terrible intellectual winds that accompanied imperialism.  Imperialism, the systemization of pure war, the categorization of all into a utilitarian, all-consuming whole; a system of mortal contest between powers, a race to the bottom, a fiendish quest to consume, destroy, repeat. This gave us the atomic bomb and the Holocaust, among other outcomes.

In contrast to 20th century’s outcomes, the spirit of 1776 was fueled by a philosophy of freedom. The people learned from New England preachers teaching of the unity of mind and soul within the individual, who stands as a moral self-sovereign. The importance of liberty was self-evident to them, as real as the green grass and God above.

The philosophical spirit of 1776 is the same spirit that abolished slavery. This does not refer to the American Civil War. While it’s true that the Civil War was fought in the context of slavery, it was a war over tariffs and power. Its concern with slavery was related to the treadmill of empire building, as a more efficient, modern version of empire overthrew an earlier less efficient system of slavery and exploitation. 

In this political environment, it was the moral philosophy of the anti-slavery movement which made ending slavery an absolute condition of the Empire’s progress. We can disdain empire, but we ought to respect the manner in which it was compelled to extend rights to freed slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation freed few slaves, as those areas under federal control were not subject to emancipation. It was the 13th Amendment which freed the slaves, and it was the moral stubbornness of the anti-slavery movement that mandated the necessity of the 13th Amendment.

Whether in the American anti-slavery movement, or in the efforts of William Wilberforce in the UK, it was the moral and philosophical foundation of the British Christian Enlightenment which made slavery morally and politically anathema. Never before in history had an absolute moral argument against slavery been made. Even the New Testament apostles didn’t condemn the practice utterly. The basic foundations of anti-slavery, democracy and human rights are found in the Christian Enlightenment of British Liberalism. 

Although the world today couldn’t care less about liberty, the so-called ‘liberal world order’, pretentious as it is, derives from the Christian Enlightenment. The moral science derived from Common Sense more or less conquered the world. While Locke might speak of civil and property rights, John Stuart Mill of personal liberty, it is Common Sense that speaks of the moral worth and essential spiritual equality of man. 

William Ellery Channing was a New England preacher from the early 19th century. He was a Unitarian, and was trained in the moral science of the Common Sense school of philosophy – the staple teaching at Harvard University before the arrival of continental (Prussian) influence. He was the key figure of his movement in the age just prior to Unitarianism’s digression into bizarre Transcendentalism. He took the moral science of the Common Sense school and the liberal interpretation of Christianity to their absolute heights. Naturally, he had things to say about slavery.

Channing’s thoughts about slavery, penned somewhat early than any major political tensions emerged surrounding the issue (outside of Massachusetts high society), were recorded in a sermon treatise released in 1833 simply titled, Slavery.

Channing’s argument against the practice of slavery invokes some of the core principles of his moral philosophy. I will review what he wrote and relate it to modern day society. Although the subject is slavery, which is non-controversially bad, the arguments against it serve to defend against modern day political ideas which are sometimes quite popular. By understanding the moral argument against slavery which was used by Common Sense school philosophers, one can have a deeper comprehension of the philosophy of individual rights.

Lofty and Pure Sentiment

As Channing begins his treatise on slavery, he frames the core belief behind his argument: the central importance of human morality, it being derivative of a power greater than any which can be constructed by man.

There is but one unfailing good; and that is, fidelity to the Everlasting Law written on the heart, and rewritten and republished in God’s Word.

Whoever places this faith in the everlasting law of rectitude must of course regard the question of slavery first and chiefly as a moral question.

There are times when the assertion of great principles is the best service a man can render society.

A community can suffer no greater calamity than the loss of its principles. Lofty and pure sentiment is the life and hope of a people.

Such ought to remember that to espouse a good cause is not enough. We must maintain it in a spirit answering to its dignity.

Although the introductory portion of Channing’s argument invokes religion, the philosophical point he hopes to convey is central to his entire critique of slavery. His religious belief equates that which is written on the heart to that which is recorded in religious scripture. In Unitarian moral philosophy, the conscience is the center of all moral decision making. The conscience represents the union of rational thought with sentiment. It combines the oughts of life – our desire for happiness – with the logically deduced principles and rights which support happiness. Devotion to morality, or “the Everlasting Law,” is nothing more or less than a principled commitment to the rational pursuit of that which motivates us as individuals, including that which we have in common between us as human beings.

Channing claims that a community can suffer no greater, “…calamity…,” than the loss of its principles. Later in his sermon, he exalts the moral worth of a society above its material and economic worth. He argues that wealth serves a higher cause, and that it has no inherent value beyond the cause which it serves. While for some the cause of life might pertain to a higher supernatural plane, in Channing’s moral science the principles and aspirational sentiments associated with what we call heaven can be expressed and achieved also on Earth (not meaning to build heaven on Earth, but to strive to be nearer to worthiness of heaven while on Earth). This comports to an easy secular interpretation.

Life’s value is ineffable. We can’t scientific prove why it matters or not. However, most of us place value on living life. We aspire and experience longing. Though the object of our longing differs in form from person to person, the essence of longing is the same. We live life in search of something which is valuable to of us. That thing, that value, and the longing for it in the form of sentiment, represent the lofty and pure heights to which we aspire. Channing’s moral argument is that if a society cannot resolve to devote itself with clear mind and conscience to whatever it is we long for, then our life is a waste.

Only societies which prioritize moral principles as bedrock values will be worthy of obtaining the object of their longing. By stating this, Channing sets out stakes. If slavery cannot be considered moral, it cannot be permitted by a society which hopes to thrive.

Why Humans Can’t Be Property

Channing’s first substantive topic is about property. Here he argues that a human cannot be property. He presents the notion as a fallacy, reviewing many reasons why the concept of ownership of humans is morally and logically incorrect.

His first argument proposes that slavery depends upon a contradictory principle, relying on a notion of inequality which is not present in the Lockean philosophy of property rights.

It is plain, that, if one man may be held as property, then every other man may be so held.

If there be nothing in human nature, in our common nature, which excludes and forbids the conversion of him who possesses it into an article of property; if the right of the free to liberty is founded, not on their essential attributes as rational and moral beings, but on certain adventitious, accidental circumstances, into which they have been thrown; then every human being, by a change of circumstances, may justly be held and treated by another as property.

The consciousness of indestructible rights is a part of our moral being. The consciousness of our humanity involves the persuasion, that we cannot be owned as a tree or a brute. As men we cannot justly be made slaves. Then no man can be rightfully enslaved.”

This argument applies especially to Americans, who had in living memory defended their natural rights against a tyrant (the treatise was written in 1833). The American assertion to liberty invalidates the logic of slavery. If some men can be enslaved, then any man could be; in an environment that permits slavery, American claims to liberty and rights are invalid.

The natural rights associated with American liberty come from the philosophies of British Liberalism, which has all but died out among governments and academics and is dying out among Western professional organizations. However, the formal world order is ironically grounded in these same principles as the foundation of the premise of universal human rights. 

The flaw of modern political trends lies with their overreliance on experts wielding power, which contradicts the premise of universal human rights. Any technocratic order which seeks to deny rights to people via removing their privacy, taxing them without recourse, denying them the right to self-defense and so forth, must nevertheless be led by a class of experts. Human rights, in this environment, must be gifted by the experts. The clear implication is that human rights can be modified if the experts deem it necessary. 

The depravities of communist regimes give plentiful examples of the principle of conditional rights. If American society will go towards a direction where more and more elements of society are managed by technical experts, then it must do so while preserving individual self-determination. If experts aren’t managing at the pleasure of the managed, then human rights can’t exist. Human rights assume a fundamental moral equality between humans, and the concept of expert rule flies in the face of that assumption.

Channing’s next argument references rights. It is a bit archaic. In Southern slavery, slaves were considered nevertheless to be men who held rights. For instance, it was illegal to murder slaves. Channing takes for granted that his audience has already conceded some rights to slaves.

A man cannot be seized and held as property, because he has Rights.

Now, I say a being having rights cannot justly be made property; for this claim over him virtually annuls all his rights. It strips him of all power to assert them. It makes it a crime to assert them. The very essence of slavery is, to put a man defenceless into the hands of another. The right claimed by the master, to task, to force, to imprison, to whip, and to punish the slave, at discretion, and especially to prevent the least resistance to his will, is a virtual denial and subversion of all the rights of the victim of his power.

This argument is more profound than it first appears. Generalized, the argument says that if some rights are possessed by a man, then he must possess all the rights which are natural to all men. Later, Channing discusses rights in greater detail, devoting an entire chapter to them. He includes a deeper discussion of where rights come from. Suffice it to say that rights are purposeful. Rights are not entitlements, being only a stronger version of privileges. In Channing’s moral worldview, rights are instruments or tools which pertain to the purpose of man’s being. Rights exist to provide man a means to carry out that purpose. If one ounce of that purpose is acknowledged, if any means to accomplish that purpose are permitted, then one must permit them all, or else invalidate the both the man’s purpose and existence.

If a man doesn’t exist to fulfill his own happiness within his means, then his life is null. To enslave a man is to murder a man, from the perspective of the moral guilt of the perpetrator. It is to deem the fulfillment of happiness of one person to be irrelevant, while simultaneously pursuing one’s own fulfillment of happiness. It is a moral contradiction that can only persist in an environment of unmoderated lusts and unlimited violence. While slavery in its heyday purported to be within a moral framework, the abundant rape and violence committed by slavers against slaves, without punishment, is proof of the harms stemming from slavery’s contradiction of moral principles.

The principle of moral consistency supports the notion of the equality of man. There is no scientific proof that life matters. Consequently, the value of life exists only as a subjective assertion on the part of any individual human. Logically, morally and legally, the assertion of life’s value from one man to the next is inherently equal. Human inequality cannot be supported morally, and systems that assert moral inequality can only be sustained through perpetual violence.

Channing explains why even outward differences between men, in ability and birth, do not abolish the fundamental moral equality of men.

Another argument against property is to be found in the Essential Equality of men.

All men have the same rational nature, and the same power of conscience, and all are equally made for indefinite improvement of these divine faculties, and for the happiness to be found in their virtuous use. Who, that comprehends these gifts, does not see that the diversities of the race vanish before them? Let it be added, that the natural advantages, which distinguish one man from another, are so bestowed as to counterbalance one another, and bestowed without regard to rank or condition in life. Whoever surpasses in one endowment is inferior in others. Even genius, the greatest gift, is found in union with strange infirmities, and often places its possessors below ordinary men in the conduct of life. Great learning is often put to shame by the mother-wit and keen good sense of uneducated men. Nature, indeed, pays no heed to birth or condition in bestowing her favors. The noblest spirits sometimes grow up in the obscurest spheres. Thus equal are men; and among these equals, who can substantiate his claim to make others his property, his tools, the mere instruments of his private interest and gratification? Let this claim begin, and where will it stop? If one may assert it, why not all?

Who of us has no superior in one or the other of these endowments: Is it sure that the slave or the slave’s child may not surpass his master in intellectual energy or in moral worth? Has nature conferred distinctions which tell us plainly, who shall be owner? and who be owned? Who of us can unblushingly lift his head and say that God has written ‘Master’ there? or who can show the word ‘Slave’ engraven on his brother’s brow?”

The equality of man, taken together with Channing’s point about rights, proves that government must serve at the mercy of the people. Government cannot legitimately defend a vision of society that it synthetically imposes upon that same society. The progressive notion of shaping society in a better direction (coercively) is immoral. It establishes an inequality, where one class of intellectual superiors arbitrarily designates those with whom they disagree as lesser, who only exist to serve the aspirations of their betters. Even when the aspirations of the betters purportedly include the betterment of the lessers, the principle still holds. 

One may not keep a man in slavery simply because one asserts it is for the slave’s own good. Likewise, a coercive progressive state has no right to impose whichever intellectual fashion of the age upon the masses. This notion is morally indefensible, and again the progressive state truly realized will always collapse into violence and tyranny.

The foibles of the ‘uneducated’ must be tolerated by a moral society. They have a moral right to their ignorance. The harm that ignorance causes to society must be addressed in non-coercive ways. The experts also, from the perspective of the future, are themselves perfectly ignorant. There is no moral proof that the latter may rule over the former. We are all striving to do our best, and all of us are failing, though some of us may be ahead of others. Mutual betterment can only occur cooperatively.

Persuasion, rights-respecting boundaries and assertion of rights all serve as tools with which the more enlightened can interact with the less endowed. Both parties have rights, and within the scope of those rights, both are free to act how they choose.

Channing’s next argument relates to the theory of property itself.

That a human being cannot be justly held and used as property is apparent from the very nature of property. Property is an exclusive, single right. It shuts out all claim but that of the possessor, What one man owns cannot belong to another. What, then, is the consequence of holding a human being as property? Plainly this. He can have no right to himself. His limbs are, in truth, not morally his own. He has not a right to his own strength. It belongs to another. His will, intellect, and muscles, all the powers of body and mind which are exercised in labor, he is bound to regard as another’s. Now, if there be property in any thing, it is that of a man in his own person, mind, and strength. All other rights are weak, unmeaning, compared with this, and in denying this all right is denied.

This argument speaks for itself in a straightforward manner. A man and his body already belong to himself, his very birth the act of homesteading. No system which respects property rights can infringe upon this self-ownership and be taken seriously.

Even so, Channing exposits the principle beautiful. In his explanation, there are foreshadowed hints of Ayn Rand’s better angels, among parallels to the ideas of libertarian property theorists. Channing’s argument, though, adds a moral dimension. Property exists to serve man’s moral purpose, which is higher than his economic purpose. His moral purpose is the ultimate aim of his life as he sees it, the purpose for which he lives. By placing economic rights into the greater moral context, Channing shows that the greater right – moral self-determination – trumps any property right.  Property in context only serves moral purpose.

Contextualizing property rights within moral self-determination represents an interesting argument that is not usually discussed in libertarian philosophy. Most property theory derives from the pure logic which results from examining a conflict situation. Property is simply the outcome of applying logic consistently to the nature economic behavior and conflict resolution. We must take an extra step, however, to ask why we care about pure logic. It’s true, the answers come easy: we want a peaceful, orderly society, among other arguments. Still, Channing’s answer is also very compelling.

Channing presents economic activity – what Austrian Economics calls human action – as an outcome of moral purpose. Channing presumes a longing – an ineffable ought – behind human action. The Austrians are somewhat ambivalent here. They admit that there must be some force behind human action, plainly acknowledge it, but they are neutral about what it must be. Channing’s worldview is at least substantively neutral. We are permitted to long for what we choose to long for. Yet, Channing introduces his own sentiments, assuming that there is some common feeling which can be observed as common between people. It is a sense of universal love and aspiration towards personal betterment. Regardless, even he would admit that he himself only wishes for this to be the outcome of society. It was his aspiration to establish a common sense of universal love in the human heart. His pursuit of this aim was through persuasion, not force.

Irrespective of the object of human longing, the presence of a greater, moral impetus behind human action slightly modifies libertarian thought. We can’t just take human purpose for granted and evaluate human action neutrally. Instead, we can observe the consequences of human action, and evaluate whether these consequences are consistent with whatever moral purposes were behind the action. It is a more holistic approach. 

In politics and law, we establish systems to achieve ends. Political thought is rife with discussions of means and ends. However, rarely do we hear about motives. Channing’s worldview focuses first and last on motive, not neglecting means or ends.

Isn’t the slave motivated by the same feelings as the slave master? Do not both aspire to personal happiness as they see fit?

In libertarianism, our belief in freedom of the markets, in combination with the materialistic emphasis of our focus on rational thought, cause most of us to place great weight on the value of material wealth. We shouldn’t make the mistake, however, of thinking that it is material well-being which primarily motivates us as libertarians. 

The values which motivate us as libertarians – or ought to: the commitment to moral self-determination – are why we support free markets and rational thought. The importance of wealth is derivative of economic freedom and reason. 

If wealth must conflict with permitting moral self-determination, we must remain true to our principles. Moral freedom trumps. This is true for an obviously controversial practice such as slavery, but also true for subtler practices. Perhaps there are times when the landlords’ rights might not always trump the squatters’, or at least times when the landlord might discover a heart full of charity.

Libertarianism is odd among economic philosophies in that it values the principle of wealth more than wealth itself. Certainly, this attitude does always not contribute well to the movement’s influence in society.

Slavery in antebellum America existed in a context where the slave trade was considered immoral and abhorrent. There were self-serving reasons why the Southern slavers banned new slave imports (it increased the value of domestic slaves). Even so, the official moral position of the slaver society was that the creation of new slaves was illegal and immoral. Many defenders of slavery insisted that theirs was an inherited, unwanted stewardship over a lesser, unruly people. Even those who saw Africans as essentially equal to Europeans still concluded that the conditions of being raised in slavery would prevent a population from safely integrating into the American system of personal liberty. The slavers argued that they were ultimately guilty of no crime, and the only guilt lay with the original perpetrators who first engaged in the slave trade. Channing addresses this argument.

We have a plain recognition of the principle now laid down, in the universal indignation excited towards a man who makes another his slave. Our laws know no higher crime than that of reducing a man to slavery. To steal or to buy an African on his own shores is piracy. In this act the greatest wrong is inflicted, the most sacred right violated. But if a human being cannot without infinite injustice be seized as property, then he cannot without equal wrong be held and used as such. The wrong in the first seizure lies in the destination of a human being to future bondage, to the criminal use of him as a chattel or brute. Can that very use, which makes the original seizure an enormous wrong, become gradually innocent?

The principle of moral philosophy espoused above deals with chains of guilt. It is an anti-conservative argument. If a situation derives from a crime, some restitution of the original crime, in proportion to that crime, must be undertaken.

In my opinion, calls for federal cash to be doled out as slavery reparations is absurd. However, a more aggressive level of social assistance to impoverished black communities is morally appropriate. From a moral point of view, American society was guilty of coercively immigrating black slaves, then perpetually reaffirming the minority status of their descendants on the basis of skin tone. That deserves a moral redress. It should occur or should have occurred in the form of more engagement. The current strategy for reconciling cultural differences within America takes the form of welfare checks and long-term prison internment, along with various forms of discrimination, nasty and subtle, combined with probably ineffectual academic support.

Much can and should be said about academic affirmative action. The political state of academia is miserable. Affirmative action in education is meant to improve the socio-economic conditions of an underserved community. Instead, young minority students have their resentments intellectually entrenched, while they receive expensive training that is unlikely to improve their future economic condition.

The majority community in America fails both to show mercy and penance adequately, while simultaneously lacking the ability to be tough. Persistent racism clashes with overly agreeable idealistic denial of endogenous problems facing minority communities. Even so, Channing’s appraisal of slavery’s moral status provides us with a moral solution this conundrum.

Morally, most of the problems within black communities have to be solved by black communities. However, it is appropriate to argue that it is impossible to morally disentangle black endogenous guilt from the moral history of the majority community which effectively created the condition of black society within America. It might be easy to say that enough time has passed, that it is now appropriate to leave the black community to solve its own challenges. Yet, the creation of black American society itself is the product of never addressed moral guilt. If immorality was ignored in the past, it cannot also be ignored in the future. Irrespective of the policy questions, the majority culture in America has a special moral obligation to not turn a blind eye to minority struggles.

Generalized, libertarians should not invoke individual rights as a moral absolution of the responsibility to be concerned with the condition of other people. We may not legally owe money or property to redress past social injustices, however, we do owe our concern and effort to help other humans. The spirit of charity should be morally inherent in libertarian philosophy. The reason is simply that justice is imperfect. While we would never go as far as John Rawls does, demanding legal institution of perfect justice, we can acknowledge that history and life are full of messy moral guilt. Therefore, in general, it is good to be charitable to one another. Rawls is partly correct.

The reason why Rawls is wrong lies embedded in Channing’s logic. Past guilt must be redressed in proportion. If modern day practices are just, and we argue that the injustice of past circumstances is the cause for reparations, then we can just as easily argue the reverse. Some portion of past actions may indeed have been perfectly just, and so the existence of some past injustices should not be license for present injustice. Rawls’ logic supports the morality of a general spirit of voluntary charity, as an important personal principle. It doesn’t support coercive reparations.

To reiterate, coercive charity is against libertarian principles, but a spirit of charity as a personal moral impetus ought to be a fundamental aspect of libertarian morality. Again, the reason is that the past is far too messy for anyone to make any absolute claims about justice. There will have been injustices, and will continue to be injustices, and that proposes a moral obligation on all members of society to do what they can to redress what they can.

Rights

Another argument against the right of property in man may be drawn from a very obvious principle of moral science. It is a plain truth, universally received, that every right supposes or involves a corresponding Obligation. If, then, a man has a right to another’s person or powers, the latter is under obligation to give himself up as a chattel to the former. This is his Duty.

He is bound to be a slave; … because another has a right of Ownership, has a Moral claim to him, so that he would be guilty of dishonesty, of robbery, in withdrawing himself from this other’s service. … Ought he not, if he can, to place himself and his family under the guardianship of equal laws? Should we blame him for leaving his yoke? Do we not feel, that, in the same condition, a sense of duty would quicken our flying steps? Where, then, is the obligation which would necessarily be imposed, if the right existed which the master claims? The absence of obligation proves the want of the right. The claim is groundless. It is a cruel wrong.”

If a man must be whipped and chained so that he remains a slave, doing what his master commands, then one cannot say that these commands represent the slave’s duty. The way Common Sense philosophy conceives of duty, it is intrinsic and related to rights as a natural foil. If people possess rights themselves, then intrinsically they have an attendant duty to respect the rights of others. 

In libertarian philosophy we focus on that which is coercive. If so-called duty has to be enforced through coercion, then rights can’t exist. In short, no government can claim a moral right to tell anyone what their purpose is, or what they must do to be happy. Progressives claim a moral high ground, believing expert-run government to have a moral impetus to improve society. The unspoken implication is that humans must, by way of moral duty, support and sustain the government’s efforts to create the common good. However, if government doesn’t respect the moral self-determination of its citizens, then citizens have no conceivable obligation to sustain the moral authority of the government. It’s a matter of simply consistency and equality.

Channing, in a later chapter on rights, dismantles the government’s pretense at moral authority. Specifically, he discusses whether claims at improving the common good can supplant rights.

Rights are made to depend on circumstances, so that pretences may easily be made or created for violating them successively, till none shall remain. Human rights have been represented as so modified and circumscribed by men’s entrance into the social state, that only the shadows of them are left. They have been spoken of as absorbed in the public good; so that a man may be innocently enslaved, if the public good shall so require.

Still the question will be asked, ‘Is not the General Good the supreme law of the state? Are not all restraints on the individual just, which this demands? When the rights of the individual clash with this, must they not yield? Do they not, indeed, cease to be rights? Must not every thing give place to the General Good?’ I have started this question in various forms, because I deem it worthy of particular examination. Public and private morality, the freedom and safety of our national institutions, are greatly concerned in settling the claims of the ‘General Good.’ In monarchies, the Divine Right of kings swallowed up all others. In republics the General Good threatens the same evil.

What, then, are the consequences of making the building of the “General Good” the supreme law of the land?

It is a shelter for the abuses and usurpations of government, for the profligacies of statesmen, for the vices of parties, for the wrongs of slavery. In considering this subject, I take the hazard of repeating principles already laid down; but this will be justified by the importance of reaching and determining the truth. Is the General Good, then, the supreme law to which every thing must bow?

Yet, if the common good is not to be the supreme aim of the state, what ought to be?

The supreme law of a state is not its safety, its power, its prosperity, its affluence, the flourishing state of agriculture, commerce, and the arts. These objects, constituting what is commonly called the Public Good, are, indeed, proposed, and ought to be proposed, in the constitution and administration of states. But there is a higher law, even Virtue, Rectitude, the Voice of Conscience, the Will of God. Justice is a greater good than property, not greater in degree, but in kind. Universal benevolence is infinitely superior to prosperity. Religion, the love of God, is worth incomparably more than all his outward gifts. A community, to secure or aggrandize itself, must never forsake the Right, the Holy, the Just.

Moral Good, Rectitude in all its branches, is the Supreme Good; by which I do not intend that it is the surest means to the security and prosperity of the state. Such, indeed, it is, but this is too low a view. It must not be looked upon as a Means, an Instrument. It is the Supreme End, and states are bound to subject to it all their legislation, be the apparent loss of prosperity ever so great.

Channing boldly asserts what might be called the deontological argument over the consequentalist view of libertarianism. Yet, I believe he transcends the debate. By framing morality as an end, not a means, naturally Channing’s view opposed consequentialism. Yet, in Channing’s perspective moral rectitude is almost an economic product. It is not material, and yet, it is the outcome of a life dedicated to laboring for self-improvement. A society must labor, through education, endurance, mutual support and amidst material activity, to uphold moral principles. In this light, his argument is partly consequentialist. Since morals are the desired product and outcome of society, then moral consistency is the means to produce them. Moral rectitude is a consequence of moral self-improvement. 

This argument may appear pedantic, even tautological to committed philosophical skeptics. Even so, the aim of Common Sense philosophy is to harmonize is and ought and consider them together. Morality is not merely perfecting our obedience to an arbitrary set of rules, to Common Sense thinkers, morality is harmonizing natural laws with inborne desires, and self-derived aspirations. Morality is inclusive of material ends, contextualizing them with human motives that inspire, incentivize and produce material ends.

If we exalt morality as the great End of human action, we are merely exalting our motivation for pursuing material ends along with the ends themselves.

My questions for all communists who wish to build heaven on Earth is: and then what, for what purpose, and, how do you know? The same can be said concerning the frailty of the consequentialist position.

Channing continues his discussion of society’s purpose and why the state’s infringement of rights cannot be justified by appeals to the common good. He addresses the idea of the state using its power to support national economic well-being.

“National wealth is not the End. It derives all its worth from national virtue. If accumulated by rapacity, conquest, or any degrading means, or if concentrated in the hands of the few, whom it strengthens to crush the many, it is a curse. National wealth is a blessing, only when it springs from and represents the intelligence and virtue of the community, when it is a fruit and expression of good habits, of respect for the rights of all, of impartial and beneficent legislation, when it gives impulse to the higher faculties, and occasion and incitement to justice and beneficence. No greater calamity can befall a people than to prosper by crime. No success can be a compensation for the wound inflicted on a nation’s mind by renouncing Right as its Supreme Law.”

It is interesting that Channing’s frame of the moral background to national wealth so closely refers to early 21st century economic malaise in America. Wealth which has accumulated contrary to the virtue of the nation, via empire, exploitation and greed, leads to negative outcomes. In other words, exploitative systems are fragile, unsustainable, and only benefit a few. So-called virtuous wealth is gained when a system is anti-fragile. Channing correlates his notion of virtuous wealth to a well-developed level of human capital, balanced institutions, a healthy distribution of wealth, and so forth. Even a consequentialist or a minarchist libertarian would agree that de-centralized economies with strong human capital are more likely to produce a better standard of living.

In Common Sense morality, virtue and consequence are harmonious concepts. That which is good is that which is natural and vice versa. Channing doesn’t propose a list of arbitrary moral precepts which must be followed. His morality requires that moral precepts must be continually adjusted to remain in harmony with natural consequences. Morality is the great End, but it is meant as a product of what is naturally right, and should contribute to what is naturally good.

After discussing the importance of putting morals before money, Channing discusses the dangers of doing the opposite. In doing so, he offers a stunning rebuke of policy wonkery and state economic intervention – over a century before public choice theory, and a half-century before laissez-faire economic theory.

Let a people exalt Prosperity above Rectitude, and a more dangerous end cannot be proposed. Public Prosperity, General Good, regarded by itself, or apart from the moral law, is something vague, unsettled, and uncertain, and will infallibly be so construed by the selfish and grasping as to secure their own aggrandizement. It may be made to wear a thousand forms according to men’s interests and passions. This is illustrated by every day’s history. Not a party springs up, which does not sanctify all its projects for monopolizing power by the plea of General Good. Not a measure, however ruinous, can be proposed, which cannot be shown to favor one or another national interest. The truth is, that, in the uncertainty of human affairs, an uncertainty growing out of the infinite and very subtile causes which are acting on communities, the consequences of no measure can be foretold with certainty. The best concerted schemes of policy often fail; whilst a rash and profligate administration may, by unexpected concurrences of events, seem to advance a nation’s glory. In regard to the means of national prosperity the wisest are weak judges. For example, the present rapid growth of this country, carrying, as it does, vast multitudes beyond the institutions of religion and education, may be working ruin, whilst the people exult in it as a pledge of greatness. We are too short-sighted to find our law in outward interests. To states, as to individuals, Rectitude is the Supreme Law. It was never designed that the Public Good, as disjoined from this, as distinct from justice and reverence for all rights, should be comprehended and made our end. Statesmen work in the dark, until the idea of Right towers above expediency or wealth. Wo to that people which would found its prosperity in wrong! It is time that the low maxims of policy, which have ruled for ages, should fall. It is time that Public Interest should no longer hallow injustice, and fortify government in making the weak their prey.

In summary, Channing says that people are stupid and planners never get it right. To base a government off of planning for the public good is to see plans fail, and in this vacuum, special interest assert itself. For this reason, governments are only really equipped to protect rights, and let the people use them to create the common good on their own. For Channing, morality is that which is common and clear.

What about pragmatism?

Perhaps it will be replied to all which has now been said, that there is an argument from experience, which invalidates the doctrines of this section. It may be said, that human rights, notwithstanding what has been said of their sacredness, do and must yield to the exigencies of real life, that there is often a stern necessity in human affairs to which they bow. [During a crisis] All rights are involved in the safety of the state; and hence, in the cases referred to, the safety of the state becomes the supreme law.”

If rights are conceded to the state, then the state’s self-preservation and self-serving interest are made supreme. If a crisis becomes too big for society to solve, it’s unlikely the state itself – with its coercive power – would be any better at solving it. When civil society faces a crisis, it seeks to save itself. If it fails to do so, it may turn to the state. However, the state would react in the same way – it will act to save itself. The state will not save civil society, if civil society itself gives up.

After his discussion of property, including how rights relate to humans-as-property, Channing devotes an entire chapter to rights themselves. This section is the most instructive of his treatise.

First, Channing defines rights as intrinsic to man’s nature as a moral being. As previously discussed, rights are not meant to be thought of as entitlements, but rather as instruments or abilities. He connects rights and duties as unified, co-dependent concepts. A basic conception of general rights can be used to deduce specific rights.

Man’s rights belong to him as a Moral Being, as capable of perceiving moral distinctions, as a subject of moral obligation. As soon as he becomes conscious of Duty, a kindred consciousness springs up, that he has a Right to do what the sense of duty enjoins, and that no foreign will or power can obstruct his moral action without crime.

The sense of duty is the fountain of human rights. In other words, the same inward principle, which teaches the former, bears witness to the latter. Duties and Rights must stand or fall together. It has been too common to oppose them to one another; but they are indissolubly joined together. That same inward principle, which teaches a man what he is bound to do to others, teaches equally, and at the same instant, what others are bound to do to him. That same voice, which forbids him to injure a single fellow-creature, forbids every fellow-creature to do him harm. His conscience, in revealing the moral law, does not reveal a law for himself only, but speaks as a Universal Legislator. He has an intuitive conviction, that the obligations of this divine code press on others as truly as on himself. … Accordingly there is no deeper principle in human nature than the consciousness of rights. So profound, so ineradicable is this sentiment, that the oppressions of ages have no where wholly stifled it.”

I have always felt that individualism is less selfish than collectivism. Individualism is not egoism. It, instead, perceives humans in general as having an individual existence. The implications of individualism to the self pertain also to all other human beings. An individualist who demands certain rights would also intrinsically accede those same rights to all others. Collectivists on the other hand, are quick to harm and hurt individuals in the name of a common good. The collective good is meant to benefit individuals, and yet, great harm to individuals is a frequent product of efforts to establish the collective good. Anecdotally, collectivist societies tend to be more superficial and face oriented. Charity is a phenomenon that applies when others are looking. Individualist societies tend to express charity even when no one is watching.

 

What are our rights? Channing offers an answer.

Volumes could not do justice to them; and yet perhaps they may be comprehended in one sentence. They may all be comprised in the Right, which belongs to every rational being, to exercise his powers for the promotion of his own and others’ Happiness and Virtue. As every human being is bound to employ his faculties for his own and others’ good, there is an obligation on each to leave all free for the accomplishment of this end; and whoever respects this obligation, whoever uses his own, without invading others’ powers, or obstructing others’ duties, has a sacred, indefeasible right to be unassailed, unobstructed, unharmed by all with whom he may be connected. Here is the grand, all-comprehending right of human nature. Every man should revere it, should assert it for himself and for all, and should bear solemn testimony against every infraction of it, by whomsoever made or endured.

Rights are related to the non-aggression principle. As stated at the beginning of this article, the value of human life is a product of an individual subjective assertion. Logically, all subjective assertion is equal, and so the value of all human life must also be equal. Our own promotion of our own and others’ happiness is a choice that is equally valid between all humans, thus we have a right to it, and also a duty to honor others’ right to it.

Channing also explains how this principle can lead to the derivation of specific rights, concluding with a condemnation of slavery for violating them.

Having considered the great fundamental right of human nature, particular rights may easily be deduced. Every man has a right to exercise and invigorate his intellect or the power of knowledge, for knowledge is the essential condition of successful effort for every good; and whoever obstructs or quenches the intellectual life in another inflicts a grievous and irreparable wrong. Every man has a right to inquire into his duty, and to conform himself to what he learns of it. Every man has a right to use the means, given by God and sanctioned by virtue, for bettering his condition. He has a right to be respected according to his moral worth; a right to be regarded as a member of the community to which he belongs, and to be protected by impartial laws; and a right to be exempted from coercion, stripes, and punishment, as long as he respects the rights of others. He has a right to an equivalent for his labor. He has a right to sustain domestic relations, to discharge their duties, and to enjoy the happiness which flows from fidelity in these and other domestic relations. Such are a few of human rights; and if so, what a grievous wrong is slavery!

A government or system which does not leave man free to pursue his own happiness has no moral justification. Moreover, not only must man be free, but specifically he must be permitted broad and particular freedoms which relate directly to that pursuit. The implication of freedom to pursue own’s own happiness is a set of uncountable shackles on government.

Channing describes the ideal government.

That government is most perfect, in which Policy is most entirely subjected to Justice, or in which the supreme and constant aim is to secure the rights of every human being. This is the beautiful idea of a free government, and no government is free but in proportion as it realizes this. Liberty must not be confounded with popular institutions. A representative government may be as despotic as an absolute monarchy. In as far as it tramples on the rights, whether of many or one, it is a despotism. The sovereign power, whether wielded by a single hand or several hands, by a king or a congress, which spoils one human being of the immunities and privileges bestowed on him by God, is so far a tyranny.

Democracy is not inherently good, and Channing explains why representative government even matters at all from the perspective of liberty – something American liberty lovers, and liberty lovers around the world ought not forget.

The great argument in favor of representative institutions is, that a people’s rights are safest in their own hands, and should never be surrendered to an irresponsible power. Rights, Rights, lie at the foundation of a popular government; and when this betrays them, the wrong is more aggravated than when they are crushed by despotism.”

If a people lose the ability to withdraw consent from a governmental system, then that system is not consistent with liberty. The degree to which a government relies on voluntary consent rather than coercion, is the degree to which it is consistent with liberty. Wherever one stands on the spectrum of support for state power, this principle is true. A government can always be either more free or less free than it presently is simply by becoming less or more coercive in achieving its ends.

Conclusion

Channing concludes with his most powerful argument against the holding of men as property. He assumes, as always, the equality of men in determining for themselves what is right. However, he also injects his own aspirational hopes for how men should use their moral agency, as part of his subjective interpretation of what men are by nature. In contrast to modern day progressive politics, Channing’s desire for society to improve is based on hopeful aspiration combined with persuasion, through appealing to a common hope in equally morally sovereign fellow human beings. By emphasizing the moral sovereignty of human beings – himself counted among them – he obliterates any possible argument that defends slavery.

I come now to what is to my own mind the great argument against seizing and using a man as property. He cannot be property in the sight of God and justice, because he is a Rational, Moral, Immortal Being; because [he is] created in God’s image, and therefore in the highest sense his child; because created to unfold Godlike faculties, and to govern himself by a Divine Law written on his heart, and republished in God’s Word.

Into every human being God has breathed an immortal spirit more precious than the whole outward creation. No earthly or celestial language can exaggerate the worth of a human being. No matter how obscure his condition. Thought, Reason, Conscience, the capacity of Virtue, the capacity of Christian Love, an Immortal Destiny, an intimate moral connexion with God,—here are attributes of our common humanity which reduce to insignificance all outward distinctions, and make every human being unspeakably dear to his Maker.

The capacity of Improvement allies him to the more instructed of his race, and places within his reach the knowledge and happiness of higher worlds. Every human being has in him the germ of the greatest Idea in the universe, the Idea of God; and to unfold this is the end of his existence. Every human being has in his breast the elements of that Divine, Everlasting Law, which the highest orders of the creation obey. He has the Idea of Duty; and to unfold, revere, obey this is the very purpose for which life was given. Every human being has the Idea of what is meant by that word, Truth; that is, he sees, however dimly, the great object of Divine and created intelligence, and is capable of ever-enlarging perceptions of Truth. Every human being has affections, which may be purified and expanded into a Sublime Love. He has, too, the Idea of Happiness, and a thirst for it which cannot be appeased. Such is our nature. Wherever we see a man, we see the possessor of these great capacities. Did God make such a being to be owned as a tree or a brute? How plainly was he made to exercise, unfold, improve his highest powers, made for a moral, spiritual good! and how is he wronged, and his Creator opposed, when he is forced and broken into a tool to another’s physical enjoyment!

Such a being was plainly made for an End in Himself. He is a Person, not a Thing. He is an End, not a mere Instrument or Means. He was made for his own virtue and happiness. Is this end reconcilable with his being held and used as a chattel? The sacrifice of such a being to another’s will, to another’s present, outward, ill-comprehended good, is the greatest violence which can be offered to any creature of God. It is to degrade him from his rank in the universe, to make him a means, not an end, to cast him out from God’s spiritual family into the brutal herd.”

Channing exalts man’s consciousness of morality and hope, invoking what in my opinion is actually a double-edged sword of moral consciousness. A tree or rock has no happiness, no sense of purpose, no agency and consequently no rights. There is no inherent moral crime in chopping a tree or smashing a rock, nor do either protest. Humans, on the other hand, are quite upset when their lives are threatened, and tend to act aggressively to protect their own existence. Humans perceive a meaning to life, and the possibility of happiness. Nevertheless, the human desire to live and the human sense of happiness only exist within the human mind as a subjective assertion, and only matter because human will self-asserts the importance of human life. Take away the subjective human agent, and human life has no meaning. In other words, human life is meaningless until humans assert life’s meaning.

Philosophically, asserting meaning for life when that meaning is found only from within (and not out in nature), is an act of creation. In this sense, even a secular mind can appreciate the metaphor that man is in God’s image. Human action itself is an assertion of meaning, the creation of meaning – taking internal truth and attempting to externalize it. Human action is therefore sacred. 

If human action is not sacred, then nothing on Earth can be sacred. Therefore, to take a man who is capable of divine action – the conception and pursuit of meaning – and deny him his own path to that meaning is a nullification of meaning itself. To say that a man cannot create meaning, is to admit that you yourself must also not be so able. To say that man creates meaning, but to deny him that right, is ugly sin.

The deeply religious should understand the meaning of man being in God’s image. Nature – creation – was born and will die, it is temporal, dust, and must fade. The goal of the religious is to seek both eternal life and union with God’s presence, and this goal is nothing short of aspiring to higher meaning that transcends that which is temporal or arbitrary. In philosophy, it is simply a quest to justify the idea that life is at least something more that totally meaningless.

Channing’s emphasis on religious, lofty sentiments is appropriate to his task. In arguing against slavery, he saves his best argument for last. Channing connects the lowest aspects of human nature to its highest. He proves that the conditions which might justify moral coercion cannot exist. Though many humans are brutish, ignorant, low and so forth, they possess a spark of awareness that objects and creatures do not. 

Humans perceive meaning to life and seek out the fulfillment of life’s purpose. This connects them automatically to the highest possible aspirations any mere man could conceive. While the ignorant might not consider lofty philosophy in their daily choices, nevertheless, there is nothing that the greatest philosopher or sermonizer could invoke that is outside of the scope of what the lowest man can connect with. The implications to morality are clear. Men are equal.

The simple way of summarizing Channing’s argument is to say that human life is sacred. Life includes the individual perception and pursuit of life’s meaning, since it is individuals who self-endow their lives with a sacred character. The desire to live is all it takes. Likewise, the desire to be free is all that is required for a man or creature to deserve freedom. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for anyone who asserts their own freedom. 

Any slaver or government which denies the human desire for freedom and moral independence, denies the fundamental value of human life. Human life becomes arbitrary. That’s no way to go.

It is interesting that Channing, in arguing against slavery by invoking moral principles, so often digresses through the same reasoning to rebuke what is now called progressive politics. Libertarians should come to understand that the same moral reasoning which argues against slavery also argues against progressivism. By the same logic, progressive morality ultimately could justify slavery. The progressive opposition to slavery lies entirely with an inconsistent and logically detached appeal to empathy, focusing on the subjective pain and distress felt as part of the experience of being a slave. If, then, slavery could facilitate the comfort and pleasure of the slaves, would progressives support it?  The answer must be yes.

Progressivism is slavery exactly, if we imagine a non-existent world where slaves, by having their material needs taken care of, were consequently happy. Yet, there’s a reason why slaves experienced physical pains and emotional distress, which is intimately connected to the moral nature of slavery. As discussed at length in this article, moral self-sovereignty is the right to pursue happiness no more nor less. Abandon that principle, and power inequality will, through violence and accidental outcomes, develop systems of exploitation where happiness is crushed. Whether we observe this in systems of slavery or within communist states, it is the same. Progressivism is merely the first step on the path.

In understanding rights, libertarians perceive an important truth. With is and ought reconciled inside the individual, the common truth of society is clear. Economic action services moral action. Moral action is sacred, inviolable. This is should be the basis of libertarian thought, and the guiding principle of human society.

 

Outraged at Thomas Massie?  You Shouldn’t Be

Outraged at Thomas Massie? You Shouldn’t Be

Thomas Massie, U.S. House of Representative from Kentucky’s 4th District, took a lot of heat for trying to force a voice vote on the House floor to pass the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  In a glorious show of bipartisanship, both sides of the aisle poured out their vitriol on the double-degreed MIT graduate. 

Rep. Peter King, (R-N.Y.) said in a tweet Friday morning: “Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House. Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible.” 

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the NY Post, “It was not cool, not cool at all.  We’ve all got to wait 14 days to see what happens. Hopefully, none of us get ill. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have had to come [back]. He put people in jeopardy, there’s no question about it.”

John Kerry said, “Breaking news: Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an ass*&@#.  He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity. He’s given new meaning to the term #Masshole.” 

Never one to pass up a Tweet-able moment, President Trump tweeted, “throw Massie out of [the] Republican Party!” Later, he supported, via Twitter, a the Kerry authored tweet aimed at Massive when he said, “Never knew John Kerry had such a good sense of humor! Very impressed!”

For his actions, Massie stands on pretty sure constitutional grounds.  Article 1, Section 5, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution says: “Each House shall be the Judge of Elections, Returns, and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.”  

In defense of his actions Massie said the following on Twitter:

I  swore an oath to uphold the constitution, and I take that oath seriously.  In a few moments I will request a vote on the CARES Act which means members of Congress will vote on it by pushing “yes” or “no” or “present.”

The Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House. Right now, millions of essential, working-class Americans are still required to go to work during this pandemic such as manufacturing line workers, healthcare professionals, pilots, grocery clerks, cooks/chefs, delivery drivers, auto mechanics, and janitors (to name just a few). Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?

Massie went on to say:

I am not delaying the bill like Nancy Pelosi did last week.  The bill that was worked on in the Senate late last week was much better before Speaker Pelosi showed up to destroy it and add days and days to the process.

This bill should have been voted on much sooner in both the Senate and House and it shouldn’t be stuffed full of Nancy Pelosi’s pork- including $25 million for the Kennedy Center, grants for the National Endowment for the Humanities and Arts, and millions more other measures that have no direct relation to the Coronavirus Pandemic. That $25 million, for example, should go directly to purchasing test kits. The number one priority of this bill should have been to expand testing availability and creation of tests so that every American, not just the wealthy and privileged, have access to testing. We have shut down the world’s economy without adequate data. Everyone, even those with no symptoms, needs immediate access to a test.

This brings us to the crux of the matter and why you, as an American citizen, should direct your outrage at everyone but Rep. Massie.  The CARES act is, on its face, unconstitutional. Where in the U.S. Constitution does it authorize Congress to conjure up $2.2 trillion dollars, then hand it out to the American people?  Notice the response that politicians (or more accurately) statesmen gave in response to calls for aid during an earlier part of the country’s history.  

1794: Congress undertook to appropriate $15,000 ($352,740 in today’s dollars) to assist French refugees.  In response, James Madison, one of this country’s founding fathers, said, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”  

1796: U.S. Representative William Giles of Virginia was not in favor of extending relief to fire victims saying that Congress didn’t have a right to “attend to what generosity and humanity require, but what the Constitution and their duty require.”  

1854: President Franklin Pierce vetoed an appropriation bill to assist the mentally ill saying, “I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity.”  

1887: President Grover Cleveland said, “I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to extend to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.”  Cleveland said this as part of his vetoing of a bill appropriating money to aid farmers in Texas who were suffering from a severe drought.  

What the House and Senate did in passing the CARES Act is bad enough.  President Trump invoked something called the Defense Production Act.  

Today, I signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators.  Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and- take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course.  GM was wasting time.  Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives. (emphasis added)

Enacted by the 81st Congress on September 8, 1950 in response to the Korean War, the act was put in place to: establish a system of priorities and allocations for materials and facilities, authorize the requisitioning thereof, provide financial assistance for expansion of productive capacity and supply, provide for price and wage stabilization, provide for the settlement of labor disputes, strengthen controls over credit, and by these measures facilitate the production of goods and services necessary for the national security, and for other purposes.  The act basically gives the president broad and sweeping control of the economy for the purposes of national defense (i.e. during war time). He can compel, with the full force and weight of the federal government, private companies to do as he says (in the name of national defense) in direct violation of said companies’ property rights. And I have yet to mention the fact that the government will need to create trillions of dollars out of thin air and borrow trillions more to fund CARES Act relief. The money creation and government borrowing will ultimately decrease American citizens’ standard of living through ballooning price inflation and a diversion of resources from businessmen and women.

For the umpteenth time, unscrupulous, unprincipled, and downright deceitful politicians managed to manufacture an overreaction to the coronavirus using it to justify harming the country by their passage of unconstitutional legislation.  Our so-called “public servants” truly never let a crisis go to waste.  

As an American citizen you ought to be outraged.  However, your outrage should be directed at Trump, his administration, and Congress, not Thomas Massie.  

The Deep State’s Demolition of Democracy

The Deep State’s Demolition of Democracy

“Thank God for the Deep State,” declared former acting CIA chief John McLaughlin while appearing on a panel at the National Press Club last October. In 2018, the New York Times asserted that Trump’s use of the term “Deep State” and similar rhetoric “fanned fears that he is eroding public trust in institutions, undermining the idea of objective truth and sowing widespread suspicions about the government and news media.”

But barely a year later, the Deep State had gone from a figment of paranoid right-wingers’ imagination to the great hope for the salvation of American democracy. Much of the media is now conferring the same exulted status on the Deep State that was previously bestowed on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Almost immediately after its existence was no longer denied, the Deep State became the incarnation of virtue in Washington.

The Deep State commonly refers to officials who secretly wield power permanently in Washington, often in federal agencies with vast sway and little accountability. A New York Times article in October gushed that “over the last three weeks, the deep state has emerged from the shadows in the form of real live government officials, past and present … and provided evidence that largely backs up the still-anonymous whistle-blower” on Donald Trump’s phone call to the president of Ukraine. New York Times columnist James Stewart declared, “There is a Deep State, there is a bureaucracy in our country who has pledged to respect the Constitution, respect the rule of law…. They work for the American people.” New York Times editorial writer Michelle Cottle proclaimed, “The deep state is alive and well” and hailed it as “a collection of patriotic public servants.” They were echoing earlier declarations by Washington Post columnist Eugene Roberts and former top Justice Department official Preet Bharar: “God bless the ‘Deep State.’”

Former CIA Director John Brennan, appearing on the same panel as McLaughlin in October, declared, “The reason why Mr. Trump has this very contentious relationship with CIA and FBI and the deep state people is because they tell the truth.” Much of the media coverage of the Trump impeachment is following that dubious storyline.

“We lied, we cheated, we stole.”

Five years ago, John Brennan’s CIA ignited what should have been a constitutional crisis when it was caught illegally spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was compiling a massive report on the CIA torture program. After 9/11, the CIA constructed an interrogation regime by “consulting Egyptian and Saudi intelligence officials and copying Soviet interrogation methods,” the New York Times reported in 2007. Secret Bush administration torture memos “set the C.I.A. loose to slam suspects’ heads into walls up to 30 times in a row, to deprive suspects of sleep for more than a week straight, to confine them to small dark boxes for hours at a time … and to suffocate them with water to induce the perception that they are drowning,” Georgetown University law professor David Cole noted. But the only official who went to prison was John Kirakou, a former CIA analyst who publicly admitted that the CIA was waterboarding.

Is the Deep State more trustworthy when it is killing than when it is torturing? Brennan declared in 2016 that “the president requires near-certainty of no collateral damage” before approving a drone strike. Confidential CIA documents revealed that the CIA had little or no idea whom it was killing most of the time with its drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other nations. Salon.com summarized an NBC News report: “Even while admitting that the identities of many killed by drones were not known, the CIA documents asserted that all those dead were enemy combatants. The logic is twisted: If we kill you, then you were an enemy combatant.” Lying about drone killings quickly became institutionalized throughout the Deep State. The New York Times reported in 2015, “Every independent investigation of the [drone] strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit.”

The Deep State is practically designed to destroy privacy while enabling government officials to deny sweeping abuses. Former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden declared in 2014, “There’s definitely a deep state. Trust me, I’ve been there.” The NSA’s credibility was obliterated in 2013 when Snowden revealed the NSA can tap almost any cell phone in the world, access anyone’s email and web-browsing history, and crack the vast majority of computer encryption. But the NSA’s definition of “terrorist suspect” was ludicrously broad, including “someone searching the web for suspicious stuff.” Snowden also revealed that each day phone companies turned over tens of millions of phone records of average Americans to the feds. A few months before Snowden’s revelations, National Intelligence director James Clapper lied to Congress when he denied that the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans.” The fact that Clapper was not charged with perjury did nothing to burnish the credibility of the Justice Department.

Impeachment proceedings have been spurred in large part by disputes over Donald Trump’s phone call to the president of Ukraine. The House Intelligence Committee heard testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Ukrainian-born officer who listened in to the call while serving on the National Security Council. Vindman was “deeply troubled by what he interpreted as an attempt by the president to subvert U.S. foreign policy,” the Washington Post reported. Which provision of the Constitution gives junior military officers sway over foreign policy? Because Vindman objected to Trump’s efforts to decrease tension with Russia, the Washington establishment quickly hailed him and thus encouraged other military officers and government officials to pull strings to subvert policies of which the media disapprove.

It is naive to expect the Deep State to provide an antidote to the sordidness of American politics. The Friends of the Deep State talk of certain federal agencies as if they exist far above the sordid details of political life — or even of human nature. Former CIA boss McLaughlin declared, “This is the institution within the U.S. government that … is institutionally committed to objectivity and to telling the truth. It’s whole job is to speak the truth — it is engraved in marble in the lobby.” But historically, atrium engravings have proven a weak surety for bureaucratic candor. In reality, the CIA and other Deep State agencies are notorious for suppressing convicting truths about themselves. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently described the CIA’s modus operandi when he was director: “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s like we had entire training courses.”

Power and truth

Promises that the chiefs of the CIA and other intelligence agencies will “speak truth to power” have become a Washington ritual in the years since the 9/11 attacks. No matter how brazenly political appointees lie, members of Congress assure the media and constituents that the next nominee will be as honest as George Washington. The “speak truth to power” bromide was recited after Trump nominated Gina Haspel as CIA chief. At her confirmation hearings, the public heard plenty about Haspel’s meeting with Mother Teresa but almost nothing about her key role in the CIA torture scandal — including the illegal destruction of recordings of torture sessions.

Another reason to distrust the Deep State is that its arch practitioners are honored regardless of their iniquities. Former CIA bosses McLaughlin and Brennan were speaking on a panel sponsored by the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security, named after the former chief of the National Security Agency and the CIA. As Trevor Timm noted in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2017, “Hayden has a long history of making misleading and outright false statements, and by the estimation of many lawyers, likely committed countless felonies during the Bush administration.” Hayden set up the illegal, unconstitutional wiretapping program after 9/11 that the New York Times exposed in late 2005. When the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on CIA torture in 2014, it included a 36-page appendix filled with Hayden’s “testimony to Congress, next to the actual facts showing statement after statement he made was inaccurate, misleading, false, or outright lies,” Timm noted.  At least George Mason University did not call it the Torquemada Institute, after the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. Naming that Center after Hayden simply reflects the prevailing Deep State aggrandizement in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area.

The Deep State has an appalling record of abusing the whistleblowers who are now being acclaimed. A draft Intelligence Community Inspector General report last year found that intelligence agencies refused to recognize retaliation against whistleblowers in 99 percent of cases. A 2017 report by Foreign Policy magazine concluded that “the intelligence community’s central watchdog is in danger of crumbling thanks to mismanagement, bureaucratic battles, clashes among big personalities, and sidelining of whistleblower outreach and training efforts.” After CIA Inspector General John Helgerson compiled a condemnatory report on the CIA’s post–9/11 interrogation program, CIA chief Michael Hayden launched a major investigation of Helgerson in 2007, provoking outrage on Capitol Hill. (The CIA managed to delay the release of Helgerson’s report for five years, thereby keeping both Congress and the American people in the dark regarding shocking abuses.)

The Trump–Deep State clash is a showdown between a presidency that is far too powerful versus federal agencies that have become fiefdoms that enjoy immunity for almost any and all abuses. Most of the partisans of the Deep State are not championing “government under the law.” Instead, this is a dispute over who will be permitted to break the law and dictate the policies to America and the world. Former CIA and NSA boss Hayden proudly proclaimed, “Espionage is not just compatible with American democracy, espionage is essential to American democracy.” And how can we know if the Deep State’s espionage is actually pro-democracy or subversive of democracy? If they told you, they would have to kill you. The Founding Fathers never intended for covert agencies to trumpet a right to correct voters’ verdicts.

Neither the White House nor the CIA, NSA, nor other Deep State agencies should enjoy immunity from the law or deserve blind trust from average Americans or the establishment media. A wayward president (especially a first-term president) can eventually be checked at the ballot box. But who or what can check the Deep State?

Reprinted from The Future of Freedom Foundation

Politicians Have Used This Crisis to Remind Us They’re Mostly Wannabe Dictators

Politicians Have Used This Crisis to Remind Us They’re Mostly Wannabe Dictators

The virus has unleashed petite tyrants to haunt their tiny jurisdictions, using the cover of crisis to arrogate powers belonging to the people.

Witness Robert J. Taylor, mayor of Ostrander, Ohio (population: 643 in the 2010 census), who just declared his village to be in a “state of emergency.” Along with this declaration, the self-righteous mayor instructed constituents to get their news from “trusted sources, which may not include social media in many cases.”

In addition, he admonished them to “Also, please look out for your neighbors and the elderly, in particular.”

Sure, petty nonsense from a petty man. But he also added this, “As warranted, additional measures may be taken until the threat from this virus has subsided.”

So, should our equally petty governor adopt enabling acts and deputize mayors, so to speak, Taylor will gleefully nail decrees on the telephone poles lining either side of main street (really, the only street in his village). And, should those decrees not be given the respect he deems sufficient, he will employ the full force of the apparatus of coercion and compulsion: the state. Measures must always be enforced.

As Hayek showed in his seminal work, Road to Serfdom, “the worst” rise to the top in centrally planned states. However, those trying to move up in a burgeoning centrally planned state can be as evil, given the chance. So, in many ways, the difference between the evil leader on top and those deeper in the nomenklatura is not one of degree, but of opportunity.

I have no idea what drives folks like Taylor—what is truly in their hearts. Nevertheless, the study of human action allows me to assess his actions as means to achieve desired ends. Folks like Taylor use politics as the means to their personal ends. What those ends are, I can only guess, although I do know that he is acting for a reason—a reason, I claim, that does not consider the best interests of his constituents.

Maybe, in an attempt to position himself for the next higher office, he is playing to the media, looking for a guest spot on some local news show—he is already getting local newspaper headlines. Maybe he has aspirations to be county commissioner or governor. Who knows? We do know that he acted, and acted for a reason.

You may object that Taylor really hasn’t instituted some quarantine lockdown or shuttered business, as Ohio governor DeWine has. Taylor is just a shout in the wind. Yet, I believe there is more here. And I fully expect a viral outbreak of similar declarations from other petite officials.

Taylor most certainly read pronouncements from big city mayors. And, if you are in the minors and want to play in the big leagues (should the big leagues ever be allowed to play again), you always need to hit to the fence. Home runs get you noticed, not the odd grounded single. And if each swing further annuls liberty, it’s the old eggs to omelets shrug. Nothing else.

Years ago, I was a petite (possibly petty as well) elected official. I witnessed “the worst” rise to higher office. I always wondered how my fellow school board members would have acted if provided a slightly longer leash. For some, I think, Taylor serves as an example.

Maybe I would have acted the same way with a longer leash, or, better yet, a longer leash and a “crisis” with panicked, loud voices crying for leadership and action.

Yes, Hayek was right, “the worst” rise to the top. However, I believe that there is a codicil as well. Many of “the worst” on their way up are constrained by their current office. Likely, they will not see the top. But that doesn’t mean that, given the opportunity, they would not mimic those who have made it all the way.

The solution, even in a time of “crisis,” is not a haunting state and its officials, petite or otherwise. It is liberty.

Reprinted from The Mises Institute

Populism for Peace

Populism for Peace

A populist pro-peace movement could end the empire without even trying.

The US foreign policy establishment has inflicted unspeakable horrors on the world. And it has done a remarkable job of rationalizing these horrors or — even more effectively — directing the American public’s attention away from them.

Foreign policy horrors are simply not an important issue for most American voters. Voters care about issues that directly impact their own lives.

But to overthrow an establishment you need a populist movement. None of the special interests within the establishment stand to benefit from radical changes that drastically reduce its power. Instead of reforming from within you need to attack from without. But to accomplish that you need the support of the masses.

So this seems to be an impossible situation: To end the US empire you need the support of the American public, but the American public doesn’t know enough or care enough about the millions of lives around the world that are ruined by that empire.

Sure, you can try to educate voters, plead with them, get them passionate about this issue, convince them that it is the morally right thing to do. Make them care.

Or you can try to appeal to their self-interest, pointing out the enormous costs of the empire and the risk of blowback.

But the institutions that are most influential in shaping the opinions of the American public — mainstream media, universities, think tanks, popular culture — are either very much part of the foreign policy establishment, or have also mostly simply ignored its horrors.

On the other hand, there have been successful examples of populist revolts in Western countries. Donald Trump, for example, came from outside of the political establishment and was widely loathed by them and their media allies. At least initially. But Trump appealed directly to the voters, breaking through the barriers the political and media elites put in his way.

How did he do it?

Most Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the establishment. Many loathe it. That’s what Trump tapped into.

Trump focused on the issues that voters cared about, in a way that voters care about. Issues such as immigration, corruption, national pride, and even wasteful wars had been ignored or made taboo by the elites. Sure, sometimes the elites would pay lip service to these concerns, but they were never really serious about addressing them in a way that would satisfy voters. And voters knew it. So Trump attacked the elites head-on.

Not by trying to persuade them, reasoning with them, working within the establishment. No, Trump launched a frontal assault on that establishment. He exposed them, ruthlessly mocked them and called them out.

Voters liked that. Some of them truly believed Trump was on their side, others just enjoyed the show. The establishment had never experienced anything like Trump. All their usual defenses failed.

And so Trump won.

Of course, Trump was never a serious person or politician. He had no principles to defend, other than himself. He had no organizational apparatus behind him. And he needed constant adoration. And so, once the Republican nominee, Trump was swiftly and comfortably absorbed by the establishment, or at least by certain influential factions within it.

Right now, Trump is not much more than the populist figurehead for a thoroughly establishmentarian class. But he did beat them, at least initially. And that’s the lesson there. The establishment can be beat.

And if, unlike in the case of Trump, it is done by a candidate or movement that actually is principled and that does not need the institutional, financial and social support of the establishment, a movement that has its own ideas, its own organization, the long term outcome may well be much better than what we saw with Trump.

Where, though, does that leave those of us who want to end the empire? Sure, we loathe the establishment too, and we are more than willing to attack them head-on. But Trump campaigned on issues voters cared about and voters don’t care about the horrors of the empire.

The thing is: They don’t have to.

From the fact that voters don’t sufficiently care about foreign policy horrors it does not follow that they will not support a populist movement that wants to end those horrors. It’s just that ending those horrors will not be the primary reason for their support.

A pro-peace populist movement that focuses on issues voters care about and that are ignored or only paid lip service to by the existing parties, and a movement that is passionately anti-establishment, and willing and able to attack the elites head-on can succeed for those reasons alone.

If that same movement also happens to be pro-peace and anti-empire, then OK, good, so what?

After all, we just established that voters don’t care about foreign policy. But this works both ways: Voters don’t care enough about a pro-peace foreign policy for that pro-peace policy to be the deciding factor in who to support. But voters also don’t care enough about foreign policy for the pro-peace position to be a reason not to support that movement!

The situation is even better than that: It would be difficult to get voters to support a foreign policy that requires them to make sacrifices. If the core of that foreign policy is to actively do good in the world, by offering aid and other such things, that will be a hard sell. You have to convince voters to care about people far away, people they will never meet or even see on a screen.

But a pro-peace foreign policy is not a policy that wants to start doing good. It just wants to stop doing bad.

Peace does not require voters to make sacrifices. Voters were never benefiting from the aggressive foreign policy of the empire anyway. It costs voters nothing to end it.

In fact, the empire exists to exploit those very same voters. The empire takes massive amounts of the American public’s money and redistributes it among a wide variety of corporate special interests: Weapons producers, big energy, consulting companies and so on. What’s more, the empire gets tens of thousands of Americans killed or wounded or traumatized.

And here’s the beauty: A pro-peace movement that focuses on the issues voters care about and that is passionately anti-establishment reverses the burden of proof: If you want to campaign on peace and ending the empire you have to educate the voters and convince them the empire is not just morally wrong but also bad for them.

If instead you are pro-peace but you primarily campaign on the populist issues voters do care about, the empire can’t compete with you on the populist issues and now they would have to actually convince voters that it is in their best interest to support the empire that exploits them!

And that is an even more impossible situation to put the establishment in than the situation the pro-peace movement was in when it thought it had to make voters care about peace.

Peace, after all, was at least beneficial to the voters. That intellectual case was easy to make. The difficulty was in making voters care enough about it to change their votes.

But the empire doesn’t even have an intellectual case for its position. And now it also has the burden of proof.

So in short: A populist pro-peace movement can succeed. But it can only succeed by focusing on other issues that voters care about — issues the establishment actively ignores, trivializes or only pays lip service to — and by being passionately and proudly anti-establishment. The pro-peace position just comes along for the ride, and can and will be easily defended when attacked, and then implemented if we win.

Koen Swinkels

@koenswinkels

Can the Government Restrict Travel to Protect Public Health?

Can the Government Restrict Travel to Protect Public Health?

The issue of whether government in America can quarantine persons against their will, ostensibly for their own health and that of others with whom they may come in contact, requires a dual analysis — one of the powers of the federal government and the other of the powers of the states. For constitutional analysis purposes, since local and regional governments derive their powers from the states in which they are located, the analysis of state powers pertains to them as well.

We begin our analysis with the observation of the truism that freedom is the default position. The language of the Declaration of Independence, as well as various amendments in the Bill of Rights, unambiguously reflects the views that those who wrote, ratified and amended the Constitution recognized that our rights — to think, speak, publish, worship, defend ourselves, travel, own property, be left alone — are natural to our humanity.

These rights preexisted the government. Their source is our humanity. Government does not grant these rights. Rather, its primary purpose — as stated in the Declaration of Independence, its sole purpose — is to protect these rights.

Though the courts have interpreted the Constitution to possess lamentable exceptions, the framers and ratifiers arguably accepted the non-aggression principle — articulated in the modern era by the late Professor Murray Rothbard — which declares that all aggression against persons and property even by government is immoral.

In the case of the federal government, it is one of limited, delegated powers. Of course, 230 years of legislation and litigation have blown its powers outside the confines of the Constitution and, invariably, in the direction of expanding federal power at the expense of personal liberty and the states.

The states formed the federal government and not the other way around. Yet today, the feds stay in power by bribing the states with cash grants, the rich with bailouts, the middle class with tax breaks and the poor with transfer payments. Notwithstanding all this, the courts continue to recognize the concept of personal liberty in a free society.

All this is background to the issue lurking beneath the headlines this week. Can the government quarantine people without proof of contagion and imminent assault? The short answer is no.

We know that, under the Fifth Amendment, if any government — state or federal — wants to impair the life, liberty or property of any person, it must follow due process. Due process has two components — substantive and procedural. The substantive component asks if the impairment of liberty is proper to the government that seeks the impairment, and the procedural component asks if the impairment has come about fairly.

Now back to what the feds can do and what the states can do in a public health crisis. There are no emergency provisions or triggers in the Constitution; yet, Congress gave itself the power to regulate public health and safety under various pretexts. The pretexts exist because the nanny state urge of members of Congress to regulate is confronted by the reservation in the Tenth Amendment of health and safety to the states. Those pretexts are regulating commerce and all that affects commerce, and paying the states to do Congress’ will.

Stated differently, the Supreme Court has ruled that both the federal government and the states can confine a person who has not committed a crime, or one who has but has served one’s full sentence, in order to protect society from the person’s intentional or uncontrollable harmful tendencies.

It is contrary to the plain meaning of the Constitution for Congress to give itself powers that were not delegated to it by the Constitution, but the courts have permitted this. Yet, even in the case of a lunatic who has committed a crime and served his full sentence but remains dangerous, the courts have recognized constitutional safeguards to protect his natural rights.

Now back to our question of whether the government — state or federal — can confine persons against their will in order to protect public health. The short answer is yes, but the Constitution requires procedural due process. That means a trial for every person confined.

Thus, a government-ordered quarantine of all persons in a city block or a postal ZIP code or a telephone area code would be an egregious violation of due process, both substantive and procedural. Substantively, no government in America has the lawful power to curtail natural rights by decree.

Procedurally, notwithstanding the fear of disease contagion, the states and feds may only quarantine those who are actively contagious and will infect others imminently. And it must present evidence of both at a trial at which it bears the burden of proof.

While the non-aggression principle permits offensive aggression in self-defense when an attack is imminent and certain, that is a high standard for the government to meet, as it should be. Freedom — even the freedom of a madman or a dangerously sick and contagious person — is the default position. Infringing upon it without procedural due process is always constitutionally impermissible.

The Constitution was not written for the government to right every wrong. We know that government itself causes most wrongs — the theft of property by taxation, the impairment of economic liberty by regulation, the slaughter of innocents by war, the infringement of expressive liberties by majority vote. Yet, the Constitution still mandates an exacting due process for all whom the government would restrain.

That means a trial before any quarantine, no matter the public danger, and a fair trial, not one animated by mass hysteria or government-generated fear.

Reprinted from the Tenth Amendment Center.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice – REBUTTED

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice – REBUTTED

To summarize Rawls-

“So much of life is the result of circumstance that no person can be entitled to what they “earn”, therefore one group of people called government has the monopoly right to initiate violence against peaceful people”

Libertarian: “So congress has no real right to pass laws since they just happened to live in a time and geographical area where some registered voters happened to vote for them instead of another person? Do police have the right to arrest me for victimless crimes since they just happened to get hired by a group that happened to have recognized jurisdiction in a place the government happens to control? Does someone in Haiti have the right to take property by force from a ‘poor’ person in America who is wealthy compared to their standards?”

The Reality of the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus

The Reality of the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus

Exponential functions. Understand this, and you’ll grasp the reality of the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus from China. I know math sucks, but if you can get this, you’ll lift the fog on just how bad this is.

With the Novel Coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2), some speculate that the number of people infected by it can double in as little as 6 days.

If one single person starts off with the virus, then after 6 days, 2 people would have it. After 12 days, 4 people would have it. After one month, 32 people would have it. That doesn’t sound so bad does it? It almost seems like the virus problem will remain small for a long time and be easy to contain.

After one month and two weeks, there would be enough infected people to fill a large movie theatre. After two months, over 1000 would have it. Still, in a country of 350 million, what’s 1000 people?

After about four months, enough people would have the virus to fill the Dallas Cowboys stadium (80,000+). That’s a lot of people, but again, it took four whole months to get here. 80,000 is only 0.002% of 350 million. Sure seems like there’s plenty of time to contain this.

After five months, 33 million would have it. That’s 10% of America. At 6 months, everyone in America would have it. That escalated quickly didn’t it? That’s the point.

If a virus can be completely traced and caught early, it can be stopped. SARS, for example, caused major symptoms that were easily noticeable with simple fever checks. You couldn’t infect others unless you also had a very hot forehead. What if you couldn’t find infected people so easily?

All over the world, cases of COVID-19 (what the World Health Organization calls the sickness caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2) have appeared where the source of the infection is completely unknown. That means they caught it from the community, which implies that people are out there, infected, whom nobody knows about. I can’t scientifically prove that this virus spreads when people have no symptoms – currently the CDC says it barely can maybe it can’t at all, though others strongly disagree – but I can point to a hundred cases worldwide and prove that health officials are not able to nail down community infections.

Going back to the math, if you catch 4 out of 6 people with the virus, but 2 get away, the math starts again at 2. The government is only ever going to be able to catch a few people at a time, but for every 2 that get away, the race starts anew. These are called clusters and they’ll just keep growing. Once a cluster has 1000 people, the government will never catch even half of them.

In conclusion, this virus can’t be stopped without major draconian measures. By the end of this article, you can come to your own conclusions about what that means. The one part of this picture which is crystal clear is that this problem is not going to magically turn out to be nothing. Things will seem ominous, but under control, for possibly a few month. Then it will all explode, just like in Wuhan. That’s the math. Unless we’re very lucky and experience a miracle, crisis is inevitable.

Is the virus really going to be a crisis though? Isn’t it just the flu?

The libertarian community needs to get over the denialism many in the alternative and alt-conservative media have been touting. It’s ridiculous and validates that awful “ok boomer” meme about an out-of-touch generation of people who refuse to admit the existence of problems to which they themselves have helped contribute. Interestingly, on Reddit, a committed loony lefty said that Trump’s insistence to not worry, “Is the first thing he’s ever said which I agree with.” That ought to tell you something.

It might seem like the media and the left is hyping the virus. They’re not. They have been battling and censoring the people online who have been concerned about the virus from the very beginning. I have been among this small and resilient community which has been concerned about the virus from day one, and let me tell you: we’ve been right so far.

For instance:

February 5, 2020,

USA – 11 cases

South Korea – 0 cases

Italy – 2 cases

Iran – 0 cases

February 15, 2020,

USA – 15 cases

South Korea – 28 cases

Italy – 3 cases

Iran – 0 cases

March 4, 2020,

USA – 108 cases

South Korea – 5,328 cases

Italy – 2,502 cases

Iran – 2,336 cases

Source.

Please cut it out with this, “Oh it’s just the flu,” nonsense. 4 weeks ago we knew this was a problem, 2 weeks ago we knew it was a problem, and we still know it’s a problem – and I’ll explain why. Suffice it to say, both 4 weeks ago, 2 weeks ago, and even now we are told it’s low risk, it’s being contained, it’s just the flu and so forth. 2 weeks from now, 4 weeks from now, 2 months from now: it’s still not going to be contained and it’s going to be – at least – much much worse than it is today.

Conservatives and libertarians: this virus isn’t a Democratic Party or Deep State scam (that is, the threat from the virus itself is real, regardless of anything else). It’s not a government scam either, because the government is doing just about everything it can to make sure this thing is not being contained. From the libertarian perspective, one harmful thing being done is advising people that it’s okay to travel to certain places or participate in large groups when it has not been safe to do so. The US government has prevented the entire medical system, public and private, from testing people for COVID-19 even when doctors wanted to for weeks now. This is not an issue of the government hyping up a fake crisis. Likewise, with the media, they have consistently walked back and downplayed information that has been spreading on social media. The media is doing more to serve the government’s effort to convince people not to be proactive, than it is to create hype and fear where there is none. If you’re a boomer who only watches 24 hour cable news in between cigar breaks with your retired church buddies, maybe you wouldn’t realize that. Please, stop acting like this is some fake crisis.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the virus.

SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the virus which causes “COVID-19”, needs to be understood through three categories of questions.

1) How does the virus spread, and how can it be detected (and contained)?

2) How dangerous will this be, in the end?

3) How are governments and health systems reacting?

Finally, what are the political implications of this disease?

How does the virus spread?

SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that is almost impossible to track. It has long incubation times, produces mild symptoms which are easily missed, and doesn’t produce harmful symptoms until very late in the disease life cycle. It also seems to be highly infectious.

The infectiousness of a disease is represented by a calculation known as R0 (“r naught”). This represents the average number of people who will be infected by every new person who has a disease. The number isn’t based on the virus itself, but rather the virus and also the environment in which it spreads. Cultures with poor hygiene habits could spread the disease more than others and end up with a higher R0 value. R0 of greater than 2 is considered pretty bad because the outbreak is guaranteed to grow unless aggressive containment measures are used to statistically balance against the disease. For example, cutting the amount of people you meet daily in half would lower R0 of 2 to 1.

The R0 of COVID-19 is hard to calculate, because it’s a statistical value and the situation is new. However, mathematical modelers primarily from the Los Alamos laboratory have modeled that COVID-19 has R0 of 4.7-6.6. That’s very bad. Some diseases, such as the Measles, are much worse, but these diseases have vaccines stopping them.

The virus spreads in ways that aren’t scientifically certain yet. There were rumors of Chinese doctors who wore masks getting infected, so it was assumed to be airborne and infecting people through the eye membranes. SARS, a related virus, was known to infect people via sewage fumes coming up through their toilet. SARS-CoV-2 samples have been found to be high in feces and urine of patients, even when it was low in their blood. Even so, there’s debate about whether the virus is “airborne” in the sense of carrying on the wind and infecting through air conditioning systems such as what Anthrax can do.

The recent Diamond Princess cruise ship shows how infectious the disease is, although, it’s unclear if people were infected because of pathetically bad hygiene practices. It seems as if crew were not really changing gloves or washing hands well when preparing food for quarantined guests.

Regardless, the virus is clearly infectious, at least R0 greater than 2. The “worst case” of airborne, aerosol transmission is discussed here.

Another complication of the virus is that it seems almost impossible to trace. Incubation periods seem to be 5 days on average, but one reported case showed 24 days of incubation before symptoms started. Even once you get sick, it takes an average of 10 days before minor symptoms become serious enough to go to the hospital, according to the first few cases out of Wuhan. This means many people would likely “tough it out” and go to work with what seems to be a minor fever and small cough. In Japan, many cases have showed symptoms appearing then two weeks passing before the patient visited a hospital and was ultimately tested. It could be that the case numbers seen in the news today represent those infected 2-3 weeks ago. Governments and most of the public could be basing their assessments of the severity of the situation on how the situation was 2-3 weeks ago, in other words.

Diseases like SARS and MERS produce severe symptoms rather quickly. SARS is one reason why airports do fever checks. Generally, people who are spreading this disease also have fevers. For SARS-CoV-2, this is not the case. While asymptomatic transmission has been reported many times, it is not proven. However, it is known that symptoms remain mild for a long time in most cases. Also, it could be the case that most infected people only ever have mild symptoms.

In my opinion, based on this evidence, it seems impossible to reactively contain or contact trace COVID-19. You’d always be two weeks behind, while 10 times as many invisible cases are occurring underneath your nose, unseen. This is validated by the relatively high number of cases all over the world where the patient was infected from an unknown source – i.e.: the community at large.

The only containment measure is to test hundreds of thousands of people and engage in shutdowns of public society in affected areas. South Korea has actually tested 100,000+ people (as of 5 March, 2020). In contrast, the USA and Japan – for example – have tested significantly fewer. There could be a massive outbreak of 10,000+ infected in the US and we wouldn’t know.

Troublingly, there are many countries where people can’t even get tested even if they want to. Reports of insurance refusing to cover SARS-CoV-2 tests, and folks paying $3,000+ for them, have emerged (even though this seems to be very slowly changing). The reason for this lack of testing, previously, was because health authorities deny the possibility of an outbreak. We can speculate about corruption and conspiracy, but frankly, it’s classic government. They simply cannot see the unseen. I’m disheartened that libertarians lately have fallen for this same trap.

The viral outbreak in Wuhan began some time between mid-October and mid-November. Their hospitals didn’t notice a problem until mid-January. The major panic and crisis only began at the end of January. Conservatively, it takes two months from when the virus begins to spread, before the medical system would notice something amiss – if you aren’t testing massive numbers of people. This is consistent with a modest (actually, terrifying) doubling rate of one week (every week the number of infected doubles), as well as patients taking 7-21 days to show up sick at the hospital.

For the USA, the problem is beginning to become visible. However, it will be 4 weeks (into early April) before the hospital system would be overloaded – by this timetable. Assuming many health care workers could get infected due to lack of equipment, in 8-12 weeks you could actually see a collapse of the American medical system. Good luck with your diabetes then. Assuming supply lines to Chinese drug manufacturers are stable by then.

How bad is the virus?

According to the previously cited Lancet review of Wuhan clinical data from January, comorbidity rates for the virus were 33%, with 17% requiring mechanical ventilation. Imagine if half of America gets infected before anyone hardly notices or does anything to stop the spread. What’s 33% of 175 million people (it’s 55 million)? More than we have emergency room beds (100,000-500,000 critical care beds). If hospitals get overwhelmed with cases, where will you find your mechanical ventilator to stay alive?

In the Lancet data, among those requiring critical hospital care, 11% died. That’s 11% of 20%, or roughly 2%. WHO has presently upgraded this death rate to 3.4%. Others have guessed it’s 6%.

The silver lining is that, if the virus is as infectious as believed, it could be that many more people are catching it than we think. It could be that these 20% and 3.4% figures should be much lower. A lot of people are actually banking on this, including those who argue that only old people are at risk. Yeah, screw just the old people, I guess. Whatever doesn’t affect me isn’t allowed to be called a problem – great attitude.

Even so, consider two counterpoints to the, “It’s only a flu,” narrative.

When Wuhan was reporting a few thousand infected, a Hong Kong researcher estimated the number was over 70,000. During the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan, there were videos of body bags in which the number of body bags you could count just in the few leaked videos was greater than the official death count (and two famous citizen journalists producing these videos were thereafter “quarantined” and disappeared). Add to that China’s practice of counting pneumonia deaths, if old people die in their apartment, as regular pneumonia – never even testing for the new virus. Add China’s general lack of transparency. There’s reason to think that the problem may have been much worse.

One interesting piece of evidence was that China’s data was fit to a mathematical model developed by a data analyst who posted his results on Twitter. The data fit the model with 99% fitness. Recently this same person determined that if China’s death rate matched what we are seeing in South Korea, there should be 400,000+ dead (suffice it to say this is just from a mathematical model, and would also imply that the number of infected in China would be much higher than what’s being reported).

The “official” WHO death rate is based largely on Chinese data.

The second point is that the virus takes a long time to marinate, for some reason. It may possibly have troubling features that make it more deadly but make the deaths lag significantly. I will provide an example later, but first consider that it takes weeks to die of slow, irreversible, incurable pneumonia once you’re on a ventilator. We won’t understand the threat this disease poses until at least mid-summer, when many of the cases infected large outside-of-China populations have had a chance to fully mature (6+ weeks in total). There is zero reason to place bets on complacency at the moment.

What does the virus actually do? It causes lung damage, by infecting lung cells. You get a fever, often mild, and a cough. If you have a severe case, you get pneumonia that infects both lobes and slowly inhibits breathing until you can barely breathe and end up dead or with permanent lung damage.

In some cases, particularly the severe cases in which recovery from pneumonia occurs, horrifying alternate symptoms occur. Myocardia and renal injury (heart and kidney failure) for one. Like SARS-CoV (the original SARS), SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has been shown in cases to infect the nervous system and cause encephalitis. The disease has also resulted in run-of-the-mill death by viral sepsis. Not to forget the immune system overreaction called a cytokine storm which killed many during the Spanish Flu and also many AIDS victims.

There are two questions associated with these symptoms. First, how many people get them? It’s unclear at the moment. Many of the outside-of-China’s internet firewall patients are currently in a many-weeks recovery. For all we know, a high percentage of infected do in fact have mild symptoms and temporary recoveries only for a dormant virus to flare up later with much more severe symptoms. This “recovered-but-then-infected-again” phenomenon has occurred in countries all over the world. It’s not clear why this happens and all the answers are troubling. All the answers suggest that severe symptoms aren’t a matter of quantity, but time as the virus spreads uninhibited.

Second, how does the virus cause all these symptoms? SARS-CoV-2 seems to have some relationship to certain special cell receptors in the lungs, which are also in the heart, kidney, and other places. Yet, how does it infect the nervous system, and why does it happen in some patients and not others? The disease known as Chickenpox remains dormant in the nervous system until later when it reawakens as the disease called “Shingles.”

Imagine all the unknowns of a virus which has already shown such a tremendous ability to interfere with so many body systems.

There is more than enough evidence to be very afraid of this virus, even if we prove that it’s not as harmful as it first appeared. We have not proven that yet.

However, isn’t a vaccine being developed? First of all, vaccines take over a year to develop. One reason is that untested vaccines can cause more harm than good, sometimes with deadly side-effects.

Chinese scientists have unsuccessfully pursued a SARS vaccine for over a decade. In one study – at the Wuhan lab of all places – a major side effect to a SARS vaccine was observed. In this trial, mice who were infected with the vaccine were then re-infected with SARS. The result was worse symptoms and rapid death, a consequence of something called Antibody Dependent Enhancement, or ADE. This is a feature of viruses like the one which causes Dengue fever and HIV. With this feature, viruses exploit our own immune system. After a first infection, your body produces antibodies in your blood to help identify the same virus so it can be quickly destroyed, preventing future infections. However, with ADE, viruses identified by these antibodies use them to hitch a ride onto immune cells. In turn, the virus is spread throughout the body by the immune system itself – leading to a rapid, severe viral infection. Other studies have observed this feature of SARS. SARS-CoV-2 is “SARS like” but with additions. It’s unclear if it shares this feature, but I’d be skeptical of any prospect of a vaccine any time soon. It would be a big fat mistake to count on the vaccine to be our savior.

Reliance on a vaccine to magically solve the problem so that it never has to be a real problem seems like the sort of typical attitude common to the American Empire (and “boomers”). Meaningful preventative infrastructure is ignored because of high upfront costs, and the difficulties and lifestyle changes required. An actual viral outbreak is reactively addressed via a massive spending boondoggle of a vaccine that is then a massive industrial pork project and one-size-fits-all non-solution. Unfortunately, not all viruses can be cured with a vaccine.

In any event, if ADE is truly a feature of SARS-CoV-2, we’re screwed. It means that people are getting mild first infections that go unnoticed, and then after a few weeks the “second wave” gets you (which is not the same as a typical second wave as seen in the Spanish flu, which is a mutation that comes much later). ADE is not a joke, and if a massive number of people in a community have been infected once, an ADE assisted second wave would probably have a massive casualty rate. Even so, there’s no proof yet that this feature exists for COVID-19.

Another “nightmare” feature of SARS-CoV-2 is the possibility that, like Shingles virus, it remains dormant in your system. Or, similar to HIV, it can never be completely cured. You’d have to take harsh medicines for the rest of your life to suppress it and prevent the onset of drowning in your own lung fluids the second your immune system is compromised for some other reason. Again, no proof of this, but something is causing long periods between infection and onset, and very long recovery times. Something is causing seemingly negative testing patients, and seemingly recovered patients, to test positive later and/or get sick again.

Why are we playing footsie with this virus again, without understanding it yet, knowing what we do know?

Finally, how did this virus come into being? The status quo opinion is that because the virus has genetic similarities to viruses which live in bats, that it must have come from a bat somehow. This is tied to the story that the virus originated at Wuhan’s wet market (now thought to likely be false). The virus actually preexisted the cases at the wet market and the wet market cluster was a convenient scape goat for a source of “animal origins.” That said, completely new virus can’t just appear out of the blue among humans. The conventional thinking is that a novel virus has to originate in nature somehow, meaning it has to come from animals who have been breeding it in the wild prior to it ever coming into contact with humans. However, now humans can create new viruses using technology like CRISPR by combining RNA in novel and unnatural ways. Unless there’s specific and clear evidence that a new virus has come from nature, it easily could have come from a lab.

There has been controversy lately about something called gain of function research at biolabs. This is where researchers take existing deadly pathogens and add features to them. One application of this, unrelated to weapons development, is to make viruses enter into cells more quickly to speed up research. For example, the Wuhan lab was researching SARS vaccine. They could have modified their test viruses, possibly with minor HIV genes that affect cell entry, to make the virus infect the test animals more quickly. The speed of entry isn’t meant to affect the ultimate effects of the virus, it simply increases how quickly research can be done by allowing the effects of a virus to appear more quickly in animals. However, if such a virus escaped into the world it would spread very very quickly, since the natural environment (human bodies) has no existing relationship with this kind of feature.

In my opinion, SARS-CoV-2 is probably a vaccine research, bio-engineered variant of new SARS-like viruses discovered in Chinese bats. I suspect they were researching with this virus and it escaped because of poor lab protocol. Someone just didn’t wash their hands right, because they were overworked and tired. Convoluted theories of selling test bats to markets are unnecessary and besides the point. Though, the Washington Post has said this lab theory is totally debunked so take that for what you will.

It doesn’t really matter where the virus came from, except in one sense. If the virus was lab engineered, even if not for purposes of weapons development, then it means it could possibly do things that no virus has ever done before. I don’t know why the hell governments don’t get this. They are fighting this war with the last war’s weapons – typical.

How is government reacting?

The reaction of governments to this crisis is a disgrace. Government has long since inserted itself into public health as an authority and can coerce activity related to public health – both among public and private institutions. This creates information stovepipes, centralizes medical opinion and also medical practice. Even with no coercive authority over your life, government has poisoned the well and created conditions where your neighbors will behave in a way that will harm you, that you can’t control.

From the beginning, the main focus of governments seems to have been on political correctness. When Chinese individuals had leaked videos of body bags, overwhelmed hospitals, panicking citizens and brutal lockdowns, the rest of the world was more concerned with not being racist. While Wuhan was being ravaged by this disease, and half of its population (5 million people, many of whom would have been infected) escaped quarantine to other places in China and all over the world, other nations did next to nothing. Again and again the WHO insisted that travel bans were unnecessary. Meager, imperfect fever checks and polite questionnaires were the only response.

For weeks authorities said, “Human-to-human spread outside China hasn’t been confirmed”. To this day the CDC still says that the ability for this virus to spread when a person has mild or no symptoms is very low (are they sure, how do they know?).

The CDC has completely fumbled the test kit situation, letting 6 weeks go by. States have begun producing their own tests, but the CDC insists that cases can only be called presumptively confirmed until the CDC can test them itself. The University of Washington has now produced its own test kits in spite of the CDC.

Just like in the US, for weeks in Japan, for example, they will not test people even when the doctor insists, simply because patients have not traveled to Hubei, China in the last two weeks. Many local health departments took 4 weeks to update their testing criteria from what it was on day one of the crisis. What a monstrous failure. Japan has a notoriously low number of cases (only about 300, ignoring the cruise ship, which is now fewer than Italy, South Korea, Iran, Germany and soon the USA). Japan also has the highest number of Chinese travelers and the largest, densest metropolis on Earth. Tokyo supposedly only has fewer than 50 cases. Yeah right.

Next week Japan will enact emergency powers allowing for forced quarantine, forcing businesses to pay workers who have to stay home and allowing for the confiscation of property towards fighting the disease. Seems like a great recipe for disaster. I am suspicious that the government is willingly delaying their identification of cases until these powers are in effect. Presently, 300 some odd cases are confirmed in Japan. There are over 5,000 in South Korea. It makes no sense, even accounting for hygiene and weird cults. The cases in Japan are all over geographically, everywhere, and many have no known source. There’s obviously an unidentified major outbreak in Japan. Pay attention to how Japan looks after March 15, it has stayed under the radar because of its pathetically unrealistic numbers.

In the US, the CDC guidance on this virus and the repeating chorus you’ll hear all the time that, “The risk to Americans is low,” will get us killed. As I said, now is not the time to go to that regional volleyball tournament with your daughter’s high school team.

There’s a naïve, unscientific belief that just because we haven’t proven that this virus can harm us, that it won’t. Trump thinks he can talk the stock market out of its now inevitable decline with his “hunches.”

This is it.

Supply chains will never recover. In the next few months, multiple national economies will shut down due to quarantine measures. People living paycheck to paycheck won’t make it, so expect WWII style economic policies for better or worse. Medical martial law is likely, since no other solution other than staying away from other people will be possible for a while. Prepare for that, both in terms of keeping yourself fed and safe, but also in terms of preparing for the political fallout.

This is 9/11 all over again. A failure of the imagination because the unimaginative are in charge. The most easily predictable crisis taking authorities completely by surprise. Health officials are saying it can’t spread asymptomatically, that it can be contained by identifying symptoms and contact tracing and that the risk is low. I have personally seen a mountain of solid evidence to contradict all of those sentiments. Taking in the rumors and anecdotes, the picture is much worse. Off hand reports, rumors and text messages from nurses and doctors in Texas, in Washington State, in NYC and Buffalo, NY all indicate the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in all these places since weeks ago. None of it on the CDC’s public radar. The CDC continues to decline to be transparent about the numbers being tested and why the response has been lackluster. The amount of obfuscation is terrifying.

Think about where we are. Imagine if travel from China was banned the minute Wuhan itself locked down? By the whole world, on WHO’s recommendation. Imagine if hundreds of thousands of tests were prepared as soon as possible, and presumptive cases of the virus were treated as possibly airborne deadly threats from the beginning? Imagine if countries all helped each other be able to do this? That seems harsh and extreme, but if it had been done the virus threat in the USA would be completely over by now. Very few people would ever have been infected. Yes, the scenario is unlikely, but in the coming weeks think about this: it could have all been over by now.

If 60% of America gets infected (likely), and 20% need a hospital bed to live (somewhat possible), you’re looking at 40 million dead Americans. This is not inconceivable.

We can complain, as libertarians, about the government throwing its weight around and banning travel and so forth. My response is the same I give to those who worry about panic. It’s going to happen one way or another, so I’d prefer it to happen sooner, with less fallout.

If the hospital system gets overwhelmed and people are dying and not getting care, that will cause a major panic. The only thing to ameliorate it would be if a greater number of people ‘panicked’ earlier and are more prepared later. Shelves will empty, fights will start, many will be on their own and left high and dry.

Likewise, a travel ban on China would have been extreme, but the martial law and forced vaccinations which are coming are infinitely more terrifying.

I personally don’t believe that war is moral, but what if the front lines of a battle crossed your house? What if you had to leave, or get shelled? What if leaving meant you had to shoot and kill to make it past the battle lines, to safety? War is immoral because it’s something civilization has to proactively do – build and train armies, prepare battle plans, mobilize. When civilization breaks down, the rules change. Morality says you have to always try to establish moral conditions, and civilized law, even when you risk personal harm and have to make sacrifices. Even so, there are reasonable limits. If there’s no reasonable prospect of establishing law, and an obstinate, immoral person is taking actions threatening your family, there is reasonable cause to act in ways that are less than civilized.

In the coming crisis, libertarians have to be very careful about how they respond. Libertarian purity is gone, but so is the pragmatic need to abide the rules of the statist system.

Regardless, do I think it will get that bad? Given the math I presented at the beginning of this article, and the seeming ability of this virus to hide easily while spreading, it’s very possible for an extremely large population of people to become infected. New diseases against which humans have no immunity are very threatening. There are reasons why the human population on Earth never exceeded a few hundred million for so many centuries. The Smallpox epidemic that wiped out Native Americans is a good example of what happens when a new pathogen is introduced to a population. That said, there is not evidence yet that this new SARS-CoV-2 is nearly as deadly as smallpox. Nevertheless, the fact that in many cases it produces mild symptoms is what makes it so hard to track. In modern society, a disease as visibly bad as smallpox would get noticed. That’s why COVID-19 is so insidious.

If major containment measures and travel restrictions such as those undertaken by China are not enacted, it’s theoretically possible that over half of humanity could contract this disease. Using similar logic, some experts have stated that in theory 60% of the world could become infected. There is another data point which is far from confirmed and will most likely go down as we know more, which says that perhaps as high as 20% of those infected will need to go to the hospital because of severe pneumonia. The napkin math is simple: this would mean hundred of millions of deaths as medical systems are overwhelmed. That said, containment measures, scientific discoveries and plain good luck could easily make the situation turn out to be far less dire. It’s worth mentioning and acknowledging the napkin math nonetheless. This puts gives the situation’s proportions, even if this horrific outcome never occurs.

The prospect of an apocalyptic number of people dying from this disease is not the main issue. As regional outbreaks grow, they will be combated. It’s doubtful that – beyond this early phase – people will do nothing if a true crisis emerges. Once people really start fighting the virus, the ultimate severity becomes a matter of fate. What really matters, more than predicting how bad the medical problem will be, is preparing for the economic and political fallout.

In an environment where it appears as if many lives are at risk, people will panic, and they won’t be economically productive (as staying home could be one of the few very effective measures). Supply lines and Chinese production will be threatened. Production elsewhere like SE Asia and India are likely similarly at risk. Travel companies are doomed. The economy, being as fragile as it is, will probably collapse. Debt default is unlikely, given the government’s ability to create liquidity, but the storied hyperinflation seems like a strong possibility. You can’t pump up real economic disruptions, that’s the problem.

Today, many people are living paycheck to paycheck. It’s possible that laws will be passed where people don’t have to pay rent or mortgages for a time, but what a real economic nightmare that will be. I am highly skeptical of the government’s (read: military) ability to manage supply lines and keep people fed in a martial law environment. Normal medical problems will go untreated. Even law enforcement might get sick.

The government itself will be affected. Iran’s parliament is infected, and a couple of senior leaders have died. Apparently there have been a couple cases from people who attended AIPAC, which 2/3 of Congress and Mike Pence attended. Canada’s military is planning for absentee rates as high as 25% in the military due to the virus. You think local cops will be immune?

There was major chaos and a breakdown of public order after hurricane Katrina. I would expect that this sort of environment will probably emerge in more than a few places worldwide.

As libertarians, we understand that the government’s power is sort of a façade. There’s a reason why the FBI has to constantly infiltrate and honeypot do-nothing loser groups of weirdos. If the image of government legitimacy or power falters, the costs of maintaining power rise exponentially. This is the truly concerning black swan. The general loss of legitimacy of government, and the consequent social effects.

The next 10 years have the potential to be very bad.

Will the virus be this bad? There is hope. It could turn out to be less bad then we think. Hospitals will be overcrowded to a degree, and hundreds of thousands worldwide will die. The economy will probably enter into a depression. In spite of this inevitability, the virus may turn out to be no worse than that. Maybe people could become immune to it after catching it. Maybe a treatment will be discovered. As much as things could go wrong, they could go right.

Even so, if things do go reasonably wrong, this would be a 500-year event in mankind’s history – bigger than WWII. I haven’t even mentioned the possibility of war between nation states as a consequence of the breakdown of society. As Nietzsche said, man has killed God. Yet, our system is still based on certain pretenses carried over from the last 1500 years. Comfort and safety have been band-aids which have prevented a true reckoning with the new world and new millennium. Industry saved the peasant from the life of the Middle Ages. Industry led to empire and modernism, which never fully lived out its natural lifespan. America, protected by geography and luck, crushed modernist politics with force, imposing a global system based on the pretense of safety experienced by American society. The comfort of the last 20 years, in America, exists because of Chinese slave labor. The effects of that are now blowing back directly. The last 500 years have been the slow move away from blood, soil and church, towards something else. The next 500 years will be about discovering what that something else is, and I believe this event now is the catalyst marking the change.

What is the political fallout, if this gets bad?

First and foremost, all people whether libertarian or not need to remember one thing about this crisis: never ever ever ever, ever, ever ever forget or forgive the government for screwing this up. They screwed up the economy, society, the medical system; never forget. They also wasted two critical months dicking around, denying the problem, preventing those who saw the problem from acting, censoring, contradicting and belittling the voices who saw this.

The WHO has prevented dozens of countries from reacting more seriously to the virus, and only now that China is off the media radar are they beginning to hype up the threat. This is criminal negligence, in the plainest sense. Even so, the spiritual, moral and historical implications of this crisis and its possible magnitude suggest that WHO deserves much more serious scrutiny and scorn than what a mere manslaughter trial could produce. The global institutions, the UN etc., may try to insert themselves into this crisis and gain power from it. They helped cause this. They are politicized, corrupt and often ideological. They should never ever ever have power, or even credibility, ever again.

Globalization and the financialized economy should die. This crisis exists because “quarantine” is no longer possible in modern society. A quarantine is a 40-day isolation, the word derived from the Venetian/Italian word for 40. Our society can hardly afford to allow people to take 2 whole weeks off of work, and can’t afford even a one day stop to cross-border traffic and trade. This system sucks. Debt-fueled finance creates a treadmill that can never stop, and despite its ability to produce, it leaves no time to breathe and reassess the value of what’s actually being produced.

I used to think globalization was great because of comparative advantage. Yes, the economics of free markets and free trade suggest that they produce more efficiency and higher standards of living. Yes, capitalism has brought China out of poverty Milton Friedman. Still, 20+ years later look at the effects. The economy is more efficient, but traditional society is totally displaced and the family is dying. Not only have “economic animals” found that they cannot remain in the home, the local community, the nest – tossed from city to city, concentrating in ugly, overpriced, rundown metropolises chasing jobs – most of the developing world is struggling to afford to have even one child. People are living paycheck to paycheck. China has tasted prosperity, and yet has no desire for freedom. Look at what bringing the civilized technological world into China has given us: COVID-19.

The Mises Institute’s latest tack is the right one, in my opinion. Libertarianism has to focus on strengthening local communities against outside pressures. Whether they are rural, religious towns or urban syndicalist communes. If the power is to be decentralized, the economy and social structures have to be too.

Sadly, total individual freedom seems to require an “empire of liberty.” It requires centralized financial system which can reach its tentacles into all communities so that anyone anywhere can abandon local social systems and experience personal freedom. That empire of liberty has been killing people all over the world to secure its resources and markets, to keep itself afloat and fund the patchwork social programs which paper over the destruction of local social structures. All so we can trot around drinking and smoking with nary a care. That lifestyle isn’t possible without a monolithic system of law and social programs. Constraints come from nature and they have to be realized somehow. More and more I’m convinced that what is called personal freedom is synonymous with left-wing statism.

The libertarian future has to be decentralization. Yes, it’s inefficient at times, and restricts personal freedom at times, but it’s the only system capable of stability and dynamism at the same time. Personal freedom will result from finding the right community to join and building good fences to make good neighbors. All of this will require compromises, but compromise is a necessary part of living in a world with natural constraints.

The virus has strongly solidified my support of localism. No matter how the situation unfolds politically, I believe that the public must finally put its foot down in favor of decentralization by the time it’s through.

The job treadmill will collapse. The debt treadmill will collapse. The welfare and medical system will collapse. For goodness’ sake don’t rebuild it again when it’s all said and done! When you and your neighbors successfully get through this on your own, don’t cede the power back, even if you have to fight.

This virus is both the proof and the chance for the people of Earth to put their foot down and keep their natural rights and powers next time the government comes to collect them.

No matter what happens, that’s the key.

Even if this crisis becomes unimaginably bad, as the economic and political effects follow the medical, humanity has a leg up. Even if the entire system falls flat on its face, mankind has accumulated vastly more useful knowledge today than it had even 100, even 50, or even 20 years ago. Even if we face 10 years of hell, as long as the old constraints are removed and people adjust, we have enough knowledge to very quickly recover.

Keeping in mind that rapid recovery is possible, our goal during any potential crisis is to prepare for the next stage. We need to sharpen up our moral, economic, and political theories. It’s the perfect time to preach Rothbard and Mises. Even so, we’re going to need something better than Rothbard. Libertarians need to innovate, to take the foundations and build higher.

An Unspoken Fear of the Coronavirus

An Unspoken Fear of the Coronavirus

You’d think people would be used to it by now. Every couple of years the world is thrust into hysteria by the latest virus that is threatening to wipe out a significant portion of the population. Whether it’s SARS, Dengue, Ebola, Swine Flu or the Coronavirus, fear becomes the default emotion while States and their confederate agencies appear do everything they can to stoke them. The press appears to almost celebrate such panics because the population flocks to their reports in anticipation they will deliver them the information they need to survive. One wonders why people still trust the media with their history of getting stories wrong. 

It is common among individuals to see the reports of a “super-flu” spreading and default to the most debilitating of emotions — especially when it comes to liberty — that being fear. But most people don’t go further and ask the question; “What exactly are people afraid of?” Is it death? Of course, that Is mankind’s greatest anxiety, especially for those who have children. Is it civil unrest? Could the threat of mass illnesses shutting down industries, thereby making certain items of necessity scarce, cause people to loot not only stores, but their neighbor? Or could it be another fear? 

Most Americans feel the dread in knowing that getting sick and not being able to work for an extended period of time can put them out on the street. There are a couple stats that should be looked at, as well as a factor that some people don’t know about, and one most don’t want to hear. 

The Ratio of Work to ‘Thriving’ 

A formula often overlooked when examing your personal economy is the ratio of “work to thriving.” How many weeks of the year do you need to work to pay for the basics? In a February 27, 2020 CBS article, Aimee Picchi writes, “The typical male worker must now work 53 weeks — or more than a year — to make enough to cover what American Compass Executive Director Oren Cass calls the annual “cost of thriving,” the earnings required to pay of a basket of essentials such as health care and housing. By comparison, in 1985 that same typical employee needed to work 30 weeks to cover those same costs, found a recent analysis from American Compass, a newly formed conservative economic think tank.” 

When it comes to female workers the number is even more alarming, “Women these days need about 66 weeks — or 13 more weeks than men — to afford the same basket of basics, given that they on average earn less than men. But like the typical male worker, they’ve also lost ground since 1985, when the average female employee could cover her basics after 45 weeks of income.” 

Many people are familiar with the term “cost of living,” but the “cost of thriving” would be a better gauge to follow considering American culture. Cass explains,” “The cost of living is the standard measure that gets talked about a lot, but there is a difference between living and thriving… thriving implies a richer conception of what we believe we are achieving, rather than just living.”  

Picchi notes, “The Consumer Price Index — a standard measure of inflation — focuses on the cost of food, clothing, housing and other basics that families require. But that doesn’t necessarily reflect the challenges of paying for things you need to flourish in American society today, such as the ever-rising cost of keeping a roof over your head or going to college.” Picchi explains the criteria for the cost of thriving index, “Instead of using a broad range of basics, the Cost of Thriving Index focuses on four components: the cost of a three-bedroom house, health insurance for a family, one semester at a public college and the expense of operating a car.” 

“Those costs have become “difficult for a household budget to accommodate,” Cass said.” 

One Paycheck Away 

When you take into consideration that most people are one paycheck away from homelessness, it’s easy to understand why many Americans have taken to advocating for an expansive Scandinavian-style welfare State. In January of 2019, Forbes writer Zack Friedman wrote, “according to a 2017 survey, CareerBuilder, a leading job site, found some startling statistics related to debt, budgeting and making ends meet; 

  • Nearly one in 10 workers making $100,000+ live paycheck to paycheck 
  • More than 1 in 4 workers do not set aside any savings each month 
  • Nearly 3 in 4 workers say they are in debt – and more than half think they always will be 
  • More than half of minimum wage workers say they have to work more than one job to make ends meet 
  • 28% of workers making $50,000-$99,999 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, and 70% are in debt 

The survey also found that 32% of the nearly 3,500 full-time workers surveyed use a budget and only 56% save $100 or less a month.

At this point some may assume that this article is only about looking to external factors to find fault with. Yes, they exist, but this is specifically about two factors: one that the individual has control of, and another that no president or politician has been able to solve in the last century even if they wanted to. 

The Dreaded Federal Reserve System 

The negative implications of having a government controlled central bank are too numerous to list in an article, but one of them is that your spending power is diminished. As Henry Hazlitt explained in his 1951 Newsweek column (reprinted at Mises.org), Inflation for Beginners

“When the supply of money is increased, people have more money to offer for goods. If the supply of goods does not increase—or does not increase as much as the supply of money—then the prices of goods will go up. Each individual dollar becomes less valuable because there are more dollars. Therefore, more of them will be offered against, say, a pair of shoes or a hundred bushels of wheat than before. A “price” is an exchange ratio between a dollar and a unit of goods. When people have more dollars, they value each dollar less. Goods then rise in price, not because goods are scarcer than before, but because dollars are more abundant.” 

Since 1991 the supply of U.S. dollars has grown beyond what most people realize. According to the Federal Reserve bank of St. Louis, in January of 1991 there were approximately 283 billion dollars in circulation. As the 90s progressed and the government instituted the blockade in Iraq, the Kosovo conflicts and various skirmishes, by November 2000, that number climbs to 576 billion, more than doubling.  

Now we come to post 9/11. On September 12, 2001, the money supply was at 613 billion. On March 19th, 2003, dollars in circulation were at 683 billion. Jumping to the start of the Iraqi surge in January 2007, we are now at 801 billion. 

Fast forward to soon after the 2008 financial crisis and the picture gets bleaker. What has come to be known as QE1 was started on 11/26/08. It began with the Federal Reserve (FED) buying 600 billion in mortgage backed securities. By its end in June of 2010, the FED raised the money supply from just under a trillion dollars to 2.1 trillion. QE2 lasted seven months between November 2010 and June 2011. Starting with 2 trillion in circulation, it was raised to 2.6 trillion. Less than QE1, but still a bigger jump than was seen all through the 1990s and most of the way through the 2000s. QE3 was implemented in September of 2012. By the end of 2013 the money supply had been increased to 3.6 trillion dollars. On 9/11/01 the money supply was at 613 billion dollars. Twelve years later, because of preemptive wars and government interference in the market, the money supply was increased by 250%. 

What does this look like in the real-world using home prices as an example? In 2017, CNBC reported, “If you want to buy a house this year, you may well be paying around $199,200, the median price for a home in the U.S., according to Zillow.” Compare that coming forward from the start of World War 2, “In 1940, the median home value in the U.S. was just $2,938. In 1980, it was $47,200, and by 2000, it had risen to $119,600. Even adjusted for inflation, the median home price in 1940 would only have been $30,600 in 2000 dollars, according to data from the U.S. Census.” 

No one would argue that homes have in fact increased in value. Atlanta added 75,000 to their population in 2018 alone. If the supply of housing stays static, or doesn’t keep up with the added numbers, prices will increase. This is common in most major metro areas. But the increase in the money supply has caused prices to skyrocket beyond what the law of “supply and demand” would dictate. 

Take Some Responsibility 

When it comes to this part of the discussion the reader may start to bristle. Setting aside for a moment the facts laid out about the Federal Reserve System, everyone knows someone who is more prepared than most. Many people know the “prepper” who has 6-months’ worth of food stashed. How many people know the person who has 6-months’ worth of income put aside to cover their bills in case of emergency? 

Sure, the Federal Reserve can be blamed for causing the increase in prices in essentials due to their policies, but is that really an excuse? In 2016, the average American was carrying $16,061 in credit card debt alone. Assuming an 18.9% interest rate, paying $640 per month, it would take 15 years and 4 months to pay off that debt. And that’s taking into account no further charges being made. 

The simple fact is that most people, even libertarians who know the system is rigged, live beyond their means. When you add up a mortgage or rental payment, a couple car payments, money shelled out for the 2.4 kids and the aforementioned credit card payments and even smart people are a couple paychecks from disaster. 

Using the scare of the Coronavirus an example, it is easy to see that not only is the fear of death a motivating factor when it comes to the inevitable panic associated with a potential “pandemic,” but even the fear of losing a few weeks at work can have people on edge. As discussed, there are barriers to keep one from being secure in their possessions that are beyond their control, but there are also common-sense ways to combat obstacles even as great as a government-rigged money system. Hopefully people will see fit to prepare for such setbacks in the future as history has shown that this will not be the last impending “catastrophe” to derail us from our lives. 

The “F” Word

The “F” Word

There’s a four letter word beginning with ‘f’ that’s on a lot of people’s lips these days.

I’m talking about “free.”

Free just might be the most powerful word in the English language. It drastically alters people’s behaviors and can short-circuit mental reasoning like few other words can.

I can vividly remember many years ago when I worked events for a major league baseball franchise. The team would occasionally have “giveaway” nights in which the first 1,000 or 5,000 fans would receive a free souvenir gift.

Mind you, these gifts were typically low-quality, cheap trinkets that most folks would otherwise either never buy or not pay more than a couple bucks for. Valuable memorabilia autographed by star players these most definitely were not.

But because they were advertised as “free,” people lined up an hour or more before games to ensure their spot in line to get one. And the panicked and outraged looks on people’s faces after we ran out of the souvenirs struck me as completely irrational. Why do people get so worked up over something so cheap, just because it’s “free”?

It’s this experience that sticks with me as I see the groundswell of support for politicians like Bernie Sanders promising voters “free” stuff like healthcare, college and daycare. If people got that excited over a cheap souvenir given away for free at a baseball game, just imagine how downright hysterical people will get over the thought of getting such vital and expensive services like healthcare and college for “free.”

 There’s just something about the idea of getting something for free that makes people lose their minds.

And don’t dare try to convince the average Bernie supporter that nothing in life is free. Just like the lottery player wouldn’t care how his winnings would be paid for, Bernie bros can’t be bothered with the notion that all this “free” stuff actually comes with a cost.

And when pressed for a price tag, Bernie himself can’t seem to be bothered to come up with an answer.

Witness his February 60 Minutes appearance, when Sanders unapologetically answered, “No, I don’t” when directly asked if he had a price tag for all his programs. 

Nothing in life is free

As the old saying goes, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

When politicians promise free stuff, what they really mean is that it would be free at the point of exchange for the user.

But University lecture halls don’t organically sprout from the ground, they need to be constructed. Hospitals and day cares need to be built. Doctors, nurses, daycare providers and professors need to get paid. 

When the government provides goods and services for “free,” it really means they are shifting their costs onto others, by force.

A Yahoo News headline was quickly seized on by social media and made into a meme exposing the reality of supposed “free” government programs.

It’s always amusing when the mask slips.

Third party payments make goods and services more costly

When a third party is paying the bill for something, that’s when costs explode. Because it’s free at the point of service, demand will rise. In a free market, when demand rises, prices will typically rise and both tamp down demand and encourage more supply. Market forces would push the price for this product toward equilibrium.

When the government is paying, however, the market forces are absent. Prices won’t rise, because they remain free at the point of service. Demand will continue to climb. 

But because payment is made by the government, and reimbursements paid to providers do not increase along with demand, there is no incentive in place to encourage supply to increase. Moreover, because the consumer is not the one actually paying, there’s little incentive for providers to compete for customers. Producers will have virtually no incentive to economize production in order to offer their product at a lower price, or improve quality to capture a larger share of the market. 

Non-price factors become more influential in the rationing of the goods and services. Costs in the form of shortages, long wait times and lower quality are forced upon consumers in lieu of prices. 

Meanwhile, demand for the “free” goods and services remains unchecked, so the amount of goods and services being consumed rises beyond government bureaucrats’ expectations. This process then mainly serves as an excuse for government to dig deeper into taxpayer wallets forcing them to subsidize more and more people desiring to acquire goods at someone else’s expense.

Why politicians love the F word

Politicians exploit the power of the F word to gain votes and power. Their political calculus is this: “If I can convince enough voters that they will get free stuff paid for by a small group of ‘rich’ others, I’ll secure enough votes to win the election.”

And because their time horizon of concern is the next election, any long-term consequences don’t concern them. When the bill comes due and the system begins to collapse, they’ll be out of office and the current officeholders will get the blame while they enjoy a cushy retirement or lobbying career.

The siren song of “free” is incredibly alluring, especially to the young. Voting is such a small price to pay for the potential of free college or healthcare. 

But “free” comes with a steep price. Society must choose: free stuff, or free people.

Bradley Thomas is creator of the website Erasethestate.com and is a libertarian activist who enjoys researching and writing on the freedom philosophy and Austrian economics.

Follow him on twitter: Bradley Thomas @erasestate

What is Libertarianism?

What is Libertarianism?

“The Libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: That no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else…..Libertarians make no exceptions to the golden rule and provide no moral loophole for ‘government’.” – For a New Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard, 1973

The NSA’s Encroaching Oversight

The NSA’s Encroaching Oversight

The NSA’s spy program failed miserably, but some spooks want to expand it

The US National Security Agency spent $100 million over three years on illegally collecting millions of American phone records – all for two reports with unique counterterrorism intelligence, according to a declassified report from an NSA oversight body.

So naturally, intelligence officials and lawmakers want the NSA’s records collection program reauthorized, and some even want it expanded to include more modern forms of communications such as encrypted chat apps.

The NSA’s failed spying scheme is detailed in a report released Wednesday by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). Congress faces a March 15 deadline to decide whether to renew the NSA’s program.

According to the PCLOB report, the latest iteration of the NSA’s data collection scheme – which was “reformed” by the Freedom Act in 2015 – was not abused or intentionally misused. Nevertheless, the program resulted in the collection of some 1 billion records on more than 18 million phones.

Much of the metadata was illegally collected due to human error, PCLOB said.

In a particularly illuminating example, the NSA used outdated and misleading intelligence information in a FISA application – due to an FBI agent being on vacation.

According to the report, a “foreign partner” provided additional information to an FBI analyst that would have called into question certain facts included in the FISA application. Because the analyst was on vacation, the additional information was not conveyed to the NSA until the agency already used the FISA order to vacuum records.

And despite collecting more than 1 billion phone records – whether legally or otherwise – the NSA only produced 15 intelligence reports, and only two with information the FBI didn’t already have, according to PCLOB. Moreover, of the two relevant reports, one led to a dead end and the details of the other were redacted by PCLOB.

“The low volume of intelligence reporting produced by the program — 15 reports over several years — is particularly informative, especially when coupled with NSA’s assessment that it would expect a program of this scale and expense to generate hundreds or thousands,” the report said.

But like so many other government programs, US spooks now argue that the NSA’s authority should not only be renewed, but expanded, too. You see: the NSA has been limited to collecting metadata from traditional phone services, and needs to also be able to collect the same from chat applications, social media, emails, and other sources.

Two PCLOB members made this case in Wednesday’s report.

“The [Freedom] Act did not provide … authority for the myriad other ways in which terrorists may communicate, from emails to encrypted messaging. That proved to be a problem,” PCLOB members Aditya Bamzai and Jane Nitze said in the oversight report. “Thus, in the future, for surveillance authorities to be useful in a world of rapidly advancing technology, they should be neutral as to communications methods.”

It’s also noting that despite the instances of improper data collection identified in the report, PCLOB still argued that overall the program is constitutional.

“We first consider whether the collection of telephony metadata under the [records collection] program constituted a ‘search’ or ‘seizure’ under the Amendment’s text as interpreted by relevant Supreme Court cases,” PCLOB said. “We believe it did not, and that the program was constitutional for this reason alone.”

Take PCLOB with a grain of salt, however: The body was created by the Bush administration in 2004, and allowed rampant abuses to go unchecked for years. Somehow, the board found that even the NSA’s original bulk data collection program – exposed by Edward Snowden – was constitutional, too.

To their credit, two board members, Ed Felten and Travis LeBlanc, released their own dissenting statement, calling for the unconstitutional program to be permanently shuttered.

“This large-scale CDR program surely sweeps in the CDRs of protestors, journalists, political activists, whistleblowers, and ordinary people,” Felten and LeBlanc said. “In the end, whether for concerns over constitutional implications or for policy reasons, we concur with NSA’s decision to end the program and believe the program should remain shuttered.”

News Roundup

News Roundup 7/3/20

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