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Politics

TGIF: On Liberty and Security

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin’s famous words are often quoted because, alas, they are always relevant.

Whether Franklin meant what libertarians take him to have meant has been challenged in recent years. See this disagreement between Benjamin Wittes and Leya Delray. In defense of her interpretation, Delray argues that Franklin shed light on his meaning when he quoted himself 20 years later.

Whoever is right, for Franklin the word liberty on these occasions meant not individual freedom but colonial “self-government” independent of the king of England and those to whom he had granted land in the New World. And for Franklin, the powers of such a government include the power to tax. Franklin thus was defending the collective “freedom” of Americans through their colonial legislatures (that is, majority rule) against undemocratic rule from afar. (Pennsylvania was a proprietary colony granted to the Penn family by the king of England. The family-appointed governor had repeatedly vetoed bills from the legislature that included provisions to tax the family’s proprietary estate to pay for the defense of frontier settlements during the French and Indian War. The family objected but offered instead to pay a lump sum for that defense in return for a legislative renunciation of its power to tax the family land.)

In my view, Delray makes a better case than Wittes, but whatever Franklin had in mind, we as libertarians are free to apply Franklin’s words to the individual rather than the collective. After all, we’re methodological individualists, who realize that no group can possess rights not possessed by its members. So let’s do so. (Another Benjamin — the French-Swiss classical liberal Benjamin Constant — had important insights about the critical difference between individual freedom and so-called collective freedom in his must-read 1819 essay “The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns.” Spoiler: Three cheers for modernity!)

Many points could be made about the trade-off allegedly required between liberty and safety, or security. For starters, can they really be traded off? The libertarian philosopher Roderick Long thinks not:

What we want is not to be attacked or coercively interfered with – by anyone, be they our own government, other nations’ governments, or private actors. Would you call that freedom? or would you call it security?

You can’t trade off freedom against security because they’re exactly the same thing.

Consider what’s happening in China. In the name of delivering the impossible — zero COVID-19 — the people have been deprived of all liberty. Are they more secure for this deprivation? The virus is spreading apace anyway, and people are dying and suffering because whatever freedom they had previously has been curtailed. It is inspiring to see so many Chinese protesting their oppression in cities throughout the country. How sad that many other Chinese are willing brutally to police the people who are demanding freedom and justice.

Another way to look at the alleged trade-off between freedom and security is to realize that one doesn’t gain actual security through state limits on freedom but rather a false sense of security. A false sense of security is worse than no sense of security at all.

When the state, even a democratic one, assumes the role as security provider, how do we know it will actually provide security rather than make us less safe? Because politicians and bureaucrats (think Anthony Fauci) say so? Because elected officials will accurately identify and appoint well-meaning and expert bureaucrats? A good deal of faith is expected on the part of the people who will be compelled to obey the resulting decrees. This model of governance also ignores the fact discovering what ought to be done in a given situation requires a decentralized competitive process in which competing hypotheses and theories are freely aired. Centralization in this realm suffers from the same fatal calculation and knowledge problems of central economic planning.

At any rate, what assurance does anyone have that the experts, who are human beings, will not err or act corruptly? We have no assurance at all. Even if a state official gets caught in a blunder or corrupt act, the likelihood that he will be held accountable is minuscule. Good luck suing that person. As for mounting an effort to defeat a politician at the polls, good luck with that too.

The doctrine that a democratic state (as opposed to a society of individual liberty and consensual social cooperation) can deliver security is actually rather peculiar. It’s based on the curious principle that while we are too incompetent to manage our own lives through individual action and voluntary cooperation, we are perfectly competent to pick other people to manage our lives coercively. No one better exposed this contradiction than Frédéric Bastiat, the great 19th-century French classical liberal economist and legal philosopher. In The Law he wrote:

What is the attitude of the democrat when political rights are under discussion? How does he regard the people when a legislator is to be chosen? Ah, then it is claimed that the people have an instinctive wisdom; they are gifted with the finest perception; their will is always right; the general will cannot err; voting cannot be too universal.

When it is time to vote, apparently the voter is not to be asked for any guarantee of his wisdom. His will and capacity to choose wisely are taken for granted. Can the people be mistaken? Are we not living in an age of enlightenment? What! are the people always to be kept on leashes? Have they not won their rights by great effort and sacrifice? Have they not given ample proof of their intelligence and wisdom? Are they not adults? Are they not capable of judging for themselves? Do they not know what is best for themselves? Is there a class or a man who would be so bold as to set himself above the people, and judge and act for them? No, no, the people are and should be free. They desire to manage their own affairs, and they shall do so.

But when the legislator is finally elected — ah! then indeed does the tone of his speech undergo a radical change. The people are returned to passiveness, inertness, and unconsciousness; the legislator enters into omnipotence. Now it is for him to initiate, to direct, to propel, and to organize. Mankind has only to submit; the hour of despotism has struck. We now observe this fatal idea: The people who, during the election, were so wise, so moral, and so perfect, now have no tendencies whatever; or if they have any, they are tendencies that lead downward into degradation.

Any reasonably intelligent person ought to see that it is far easier for us to manage our own lives than to select “the right” social engineers, with their compulsory one-size-fits-all plans, to do it for us.

It is said that neither freedom nor security is free. I agree. But must we pay coercive monopoly prices for inferior services?

Vote Buying Surges in Advance of Georgia Runoff

President Joe Biden is tottering on the edge of his most inefficient vote-buying binge yet. As the runoff race for Georgia’s Senate seat enters its final weeks, the Biden administration may rubberstamp a nationwide handout to snare a handful of Peach State ballots.

Georgia has been the scene of some of the most brazen political shenanigans and worst demagoguery in recent years. When Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock was in a runoff in January 2021 for the seat, his campaign distributed fliers promising, “Want a $2,000 Check? Vote Warnock.” Biden endorsed that promise, and Warnock’s victory gave control of the Senate to Democrats.

That opened the floodgates to trillions in additional federal spending, including more COVID stimulus payments that helped spur the high inflation now vexing all Americans.

Even The Washington Post recently cringed at the cravenness of the Warnock campaign. A Post editorial stated: “During the state’s last runoff in 2021, the Democratic candidates leaned hard in favor of more generous stimulus checks. It helped them triumph.”

The Georgia race comes in the wake of the judicial nullification of Team Biden’s biggest election bribe for the midterms. On Aug. 24, Biden announced he was canceling up to $20,000 in student debt for borrowers who earned less than $125,000 (or $250,000 for couples). That handout helped give Democrats a 28% advantage from voters in the 18-29 age group, demolishing hopes for a Republican red wave.

Continue reading this article at The New York Post

Donald Trump Reveals His 2024 Presidential Platform

Speaking Tuesday before an audience of supporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Donald Trump presented an hour-long speech announcing that he is running in the 2024 general election to regain the United States presidency. Trump used the speech to provide an introduction to aspects of the agenda he says he will pursue as president.

The first half of Trump’s speech was largely consumed with talk about other matters including criticism of President Joe Biden, promotion of Trump’s past presidency, discussion of the 2022 midterm election, predictions of particular goals to be accomplished due to undefined actions he would pursue as president, and rhetorical flourishes.

Then, in the second half of the speech, Trump addressed what he termed “just the beginning of our national greatness agenda” that he would seek to implement should he assume the presidency in after the 2024 election.

Below are Trump’s comments from the speech outlining aspects of that presidential or “national greatness” agenda.

Regarding the economy, Trump said “we will build the greatest economy ever” after the Biden administration had “destroyed” the U.S. economy. In particular, Trump said he would take action to reduce inflation to one percent. He also declared, “On day one we will end Joe Biden’s war on American energy.” This Trump argues will reduce inflation because it will reduce energy costs. Along with that, Trump said, “The socialist disaster known as the Green New Deal, which is destroying our country, and the many crippling regulations that it has spawned will be immediately terminated so that our country can again breathe and grow and thrive like it should.”

Because “economic security is national security,” Trump then declared “we will launch an all-out campaign to eliminate America’s dependence on China.” Continuing, Trump stated, “We will bring our supply chains” that he described as “a disaster right now,” as well as manufacturing, “back home” and “systematically bring back wealth, health, and success to the American middle class and to America itself.”

Moving on to the next item in his presidential agenda, Trump declared, “We are going to restore and secure America’s borders just like we had them before—best ever.” Trump, in making this statement, was comparing his record to that of Biden who Trump said “has abolished America’s borders.” Trump spoke of a border wall as a component of achieving his goal. “We built the wall, and now we will add to it,” he stated. Continuing his discussion of immigration and borders, Trump said, “Within moments of my inauguration, catch and release will be gone forever.” He also said he would reinstate a policy where prospective immigrants “remain in Mexico” as the immigration determination process proceeds. In addition, Trump stated, “We will begin the process of safely removing the illegal alien criminals that have been unlawfully allowed into our country.”

“We will stop the flow of deadly drugs and horrible human trafficking which both have been set upon us like never before,” Trump declared, continuing his discussion related to the border while transitioning to the topic of restoring law and order that Trump claims has had a “total breakdown” under Biden’s presidency.

“I will restore public safety in American cities and other communities that need our help, and, if they don’t want our help, we are going to insist that they take our help this time,” Trump declared. In this context, he also mentioned his past use, as president, of the national guard in America.

Regarding police, Trump said, “We will give our police back their authority, resources, power, legal protection, and we will give them back their respect; they’re great people.”

Further, Trump stated he will as president “immediately launch a no-holds-barred national campaign to dismantle the gangs and clean out the nests of organized street crime.”

The next bit of Trump’s speech concerned the war on drugs. Trump began, “We will wage war upon the cartels and stop the fentanyl and deadly drugs from killing 200,000 Americans per year, and I will ask Congress for legislation ensuring” that all people caught selling drugs “receive the death penalty for their heinous acts.”

Shifting to education, Trump stated in the announcement speech, “When I’m in the White House, our schools will cease pushing critical race theory—as they were, radical civics, and gender insanity, or, if they do that, they will lose all federal funding, but we’ll get them to stop.” Trump commented that he “will be the president who finally fixes education in America,” noting, “We will not let men, as an example, participate in women’s sports.” Trump also expressed generally a commitment to defending parental rights.

Moving on to the military, Trump stated, “As commander in chief, I will get Biden’s radical left ideology out of our military.”

Next addressing coronavirus-related policy, Trump declared, “We will abolish every Biden covid mandate and rehire every patriot who was fired from our military with an apology and full back pay.”

Regarding foreign policy, Trump stated, “unlike Biden possibly getting us into World War III, which can seriously happen, I will keep America out of foolish and unnecessary foreign wars just as I did for four straight years.” Continuing, Trump declared, “We will again have peace through strength.” Expanding on this idea, Trump immediately added, “As events overseas have shown, to protect our people from the unthinkable threat of nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles, the United States must also build a state-of-the-art, next-generation missile defense shield.”

Proceeding on, Trump stated, “We must conduct a top-to-bottom overhaul to clean out the festering rot and corruption of Washington, DC.” Trump followed up with a similar broad statement that “We will dismantle the deep state and restore government by the people.” Providing some indication of how he may seek to accomplish these goals, Trump declared, “To further drain the swamp, I will push for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress.” Continuing, Trump stated he would “ask for a permanent ban on taxpayer funding of campaigns” and “a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and Cabinet members.” Also on Trump’s list for banning, he stated in the speech, is “members of Congress getting rich by trading stocks with insider information.”

Lastly, moving on to elections, Trump declared, “To eliminate cheating, I will immediately demand voter ID, same day voting, and only paper ballots.” In addition, Trump stated, “we want all votes counted by election night.”

That’s the first look at Trump’s presidential agenda, from the man himself. We’ll see how the agenda develops over the campaign.

This article was originally featured at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity and is republished with permission.

Fake News Exposed: Inflation, Iran, College, America First, and Poland

What Makes Wages Rise

The buyers do not pay for the toil and trouble the worker took nor for the length of time he spent in working. They pay for the products. The better the tools are which the worker uses in his job, the more he can perform in an hour, the higher is, consequently, his remuneration.

What makes wages rise and renders the material conditions of the wage earners more satisfactory is improvement in the technological equipment.

American wages are higher than wages in other countries because the capital invested per head of the worker is greater and the plants are thereby in the position to use the most efficient tools and machines. What is called the American way of life is the result of the fact that the United States has put fewer obstacles in the way of saving and capital accumulation than other nations.

The economic backwardness of such countries as India consists precisely in the fact that their policies hinder both the accumulation of domestic capital and the investment of foreign capital.

As the capital required is lacking, the Indian enterprises are prevented from employing sufficient quantities of modern equipment, are therefore producing much less per manhour and can only afford to pay wage rates which, compared with American wage rates, appear as shockingly low.

There is only one way that leads to an improvement of the standard of living for the wage-earning masses, viz., the increase in the amount of capital invested. All other methods, however popular they may be, are not only futile, but are actually detrimental to the well-being of those they allegedly want to benefit.

– Ludwig von Mises, Ph.D., “Wages, Unemployment, and Inflation,” Christian Economics, March 1958.

TGIF: Beware the Regulatory Storm over FTX

The bankruptcy of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX and the alleged fraud by co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried, which has cost customers millions, is tailor-made for anyone who already wants the power of government to expand, especially in the area of financial privacy. For that reason I think it would be useful to take a 30,000-foot view of the matter. I offer these considerations as someone with no more than a layman’s knowledge of the cryptocurrency phenomenon. (I found this Reason video helpful.)

First, fraud is illegal. If a firm accepts money from clients and uses it in violation of the contractual terms, that is already against the law and the victims have legal recourse. So right off the bat we should be highly doubtful about calls for new laws and regulations or expanded regulatory oversight.

Second, regulation can create a moral hazard. That’s what happens when a sense of security provided by insurance or government regulation unintendedly encourages the very bad thing that one sought to avoid. Think of the massive stock fraud perpetrated by Bernie Madoff. Madoff was a well-connected investment insider who defrauded highly sophisticated individuals and charities. He didn’t prey on naive widows. Madoff had even worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Isn’t it plausible that the existence of the regulatory regime worked to Madoff’s advantage? Imagine if no such regime had existed and investors had not been led to rely on an SEC “watchdog,” with all the classic bureaucratic deficiencies, to protect them. Would they have been such easy marks? I think not.

Fraud is always possible no matter the regulatory environment. Thus a false sense of security is worse than none at all.

Critics of markets denigrate the buyer beware principle, but when compared to the alternative — trust state bureaucrats — it looks pretty good. To the extent that regulators weaken buyer beware, they do a disservice to the public while posing as benefactors. Buyer beware is necessary in any legal environment. If you were looking for a new doctor, would you be content simply to throw a dart at a list of government-licensed physicians? Or would you ask around?

Third, the alleged criminality of FTX should not impugn cryptocurrency per se any more than Maddoff’s criminality impugned the stock market per se. If, as appears to be the case, a bad actor harmed a lot of people, he should have to compensate his victims. (Of course, that may not come close to making them whole.) But Bankman-Fried’s wrongdoing must not be used to demonize cryptocurrency as inherently suspect and illegitimate or to drive it out of existence. No reasonable person concluded that we should not have a stock market because Madoff used it to fleece lots of people.

Fourth, some powerful people are out to get cryptocurrency precisely because it can help regular people maintain some privacy. Those with a fetish for government power have pushed and often attained measures designed to abolish financial privacy. For example, through the government’s “Know Your Customer” rules, banks are obliged to inform regulators about their depositors’ behavior even if no evidence of criminality exists. Regulation of the government-cartelized banking industry is so extensive that bureaucrats can make virtually any demand and the unwitting depositors whose privacy is compromised have little or no recourse. In a competitive banking industry with market-based money, banks would perhaps offer different assurances about privacy and consumers would freely decide what level they valued at what price. That’s how it should be.

If people believe that financial privacy matters only to those who have harmful activity to hide, they need to get over it. Financial privacy and privacy in general are simply implications of self-ownership and should matter to everyone. It is obviously important in authoritarian and totalitarian countries, where governments freely confiscate people’s wealth, but it’s also important here. We can’t know exactly what the future holds. Remember what happened to protesting truckers’ bank accounts in Canada? Let’s also not forget PayPal’s threat, since rescinded, to fine customers for spreading alleged misinformation. And the war on drug sellers and users can’t be a good reason for denying financial privacy because the so-called drug war should be abolished.

No one who cares about individual freedom should stand by and let the FTX scandal become a pretext for expanded government power and the destruction or nationalization of cryptocurrency.

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