Politics

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.”

Data Don’t Speak for Themselves

Data Don’t Speak for Themselves

Check out this graph, data for which were drawn from the USDA and CDC:

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With a correlation coefficient of about -0.94, these data indicate that for the decade 2000-2009 there was a strong inverse relationship between per capita consumption of beef and the number of suicides by handgun. That is, this correlation seems to imply that the decline in total beef consumed per person over the course of the decade was linked to the number of suicides by handgun, which rose at virtually the same rate.

This proves that there’s a relationship between an individual’s meat consumption and his likelihood to commit suicide, right?

Of course not; this correlation is spurious. These data were not the result of a study that tracked the mental health and dietary habits of individuals over a decade. Rather, to demonstrate this idea of spurious correlation, the graph‘s maker, Tyler Vigen, took data from the CDC and USDA and laid them on top of one another. That they correlate for so long–and so closely–is entirely coincidental.

Absent some theoretical framework with which to interpret data–that is, if we let the data “speak for themselves”–data correlations can seem to deny true principles. For instance, roughly 87,000 flights occur daily in the United States, ostensibly defying the laws of gravity. But the laws of gravity aren’t contravened by the flight of giant metal birds with fixed wings. Rather, the interaction between airspeed, air pressure, wing shape, and direction creates the lift that allows aircraft to soar thousands of feet above the earth. The laws of gravity are entirely satisfied, and anyone claiming that these flights are evidence that the laws of gravity have been overturned would be ridiculed mercilessly by his peers.

This principle is just as true in economics as it is in physics. For example, economic theory tells us that demand curves are downward sloping–i.e. as price increases, fewer units of a good are consumed–but some studies purport to find that raising the cost of labor by means of a minimum wage causes no change in employers’ demand for labor. If the relationship between labor and the law of demand isn’t being disproved, what’s going on? 

At first glance, the law of demand would seem to imply that an increase in the cost of labor would induce employers to decrease the number of workers they hire. But if the minimum wage is only binding on certain individuals, and if employers don’t hire any such individuals, then employers won’t be impacted by the change. Likewise, for those making more than a proposed wage floor, a rise in the minimum wage won’t constitute a “raise” because, at best, their incomes will remain unaffected.

For example, according to PayScale the estimated average yearly earnings of someone who throws freight at WinCo Foods in Boise, ID, is $17,000. Assuming full-time status (2,080 working-hours annually), that amounts to a wage of roughly $8.17/hour. Idaho’s minimum wage reflects the national minimum wage of $7.25/hour, so any increase in their wage floor of up to $0.92/hour won’t be binding on any of WinCo’s Boise-based freight throwers, and, all things equal, WinCo’s employment level won’t be impacted.

But such a lack of response in employment isn’t evidence that minimum wage laws have no disemployment effects, or that the law of demand is irrelevant to labor. All it would demonstrate is that we must be more careful in determining the impacts of minimum wage hikes. Indeed, including workers who make more than the amount of a given proposal to raise the minimum wage is distortive of a study’s results, at best. At worst, their inclusion is highly disingenuous. 

Fortunately, the minimum wage is among the most studied policies in economics, so a great deal of work on its disemployment effects has already been done with low wage-earners in mind. A study out of Denmark [pdf], for example, assessed the impact of minimum wage increases on teenagers, for whom, by law, the minimum wage rises nearly 40 percent at age 18. 

The authors found that while those who keep their jobs see a significant increase in take-home pay, labor as a proportion of total input falls by nearly half. Furthermore, the overall employment rate for teens falls by a third as 18-year-old workers find themselves jobless. The upshot of these effects, taken together, is that the level of total wages paid by employers remains virtually unchanged—a result completely in line with the law of demand.

But there are other ways that employment is distorted by the institution of a new wage floor. Quite often, in fact, the law of demand is satisfied in ways that are less immediately visible. 

Recent studies from Seattle, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign [pdf], and New York University [pdf] provide good examples. In the Seattle study, workers saw declines in hours that completely offset their gains in hourly pay, leaving them with less take-home pay. The NYU study found that higher productivity workers were substituted for lower productivity workers. In addition to such findings, the UIUC study also found that in low-skilled, labor-intensive industries a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage resulted in an increase of more than 24 percent in spending on capital, in line with concerns that minimum wage hikes lead to faster automation.

Other impacts from minimum wage hikes that aren’t immediately obvious include reductions in non-wage benefits for workers both at and just above the wage floor, higher consumer prices [pdf], substituting increased customer responsibility for unskilled labor [pdf], higher credential requirements for would-be employees [pdf], delayed teen and minority entry into the job market, and slower job growth for as long as eight years after the increase.

In spite of (methodologically questionable) recent challenges, the decades-old consensus remains on solid empirical ground. In a review of more than 100 studies of the minimum wage in countries across the globe, less than 8 percent found that increasing the minimum wage had the kind of positive impact on employment found in studies that challenge the consensus view. About two-thirds of the studies, by contrast, found negative employment effects. 

When the authors narrowed their evaluation to the best-quality evidence, 85 percent of studies found the expected disemployment effects, while “very few–if any–cases [were found in which] a study provide[d] convincing evidence of positive employment effects of minimum wages” on those most susceptible to employment displacement. 

In other words, despite donning a scientific veneer, the claims of those who hold that labor is not subject to the law of demand are nearly as baseless as those who might argue that the flight of airplanes disproves the law of gravity. Given the weight of evidence, we should be immediately skeptical upon hearing of studies that purport to find net-zero (or net-positive) impacts resulting from minimum wage hikes. 

But even if the literature were murkier on the empirical relationship between wage floors and employment, such skepticism would still be warranted. Intuitively, we know that if the price of a good rises, we respond to that change by reducing our consumption of that good. While the response depends on the individual consumer’s capacity and desire to consume at a given price level (that is, their demand elasticity), at some point the next increase in price causes everyone* to consume less. Interpreting data within this theoretical framework allows one to forego the mockery of anyone possessed of passing familiarity with economic principles.

In the end, economist David Henderson’s First Pillar of Economic Wisdom remains a true guiding principle: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. And, indeed, in the immortal words of Wesley, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

*The exception is in goods for which demand is perfectly inelastic, but, given the ease with which unskilled laborers can be found in the labor market, one would be hard-pressed to argue convincingly that unskilled labor constitutes such a good.

Reprinted from Ignore This.

‘I Was Just Following Orders’

‘I Was Just Following Orders’

“I was just following orders” is the mantra of everyone who has found themselves on the wrong side of history – who is called into account for their actions as an order taker. How is it possible that everyone from corrupt mayors, to murderous tyrants have been able to get so many people to obey them and march in lockstep? When you take into account there are people who are willing to defend them, it’s easy to understand how these organs of the State are allowed to get away with everything from ticketing people for non-violent crimes, to the worst atrocities one could ever imagine. When you have cheerleaders, as athletes do, you are often looked at as a hero. Why else would other people be championing you and your profession? 

From the day they’re born, the overwhelming majority of people are raised in environments that teach them to obey “authority” and never question it.  

A perfect example is unquestioning nationalism. A quote on nationalism by Albert Einstein which he spoke before the rise of Hitler was, “nationalism is an infantile disease, it is the measles of mankind.” That makes sense especially when you consider that people who are unquestioning nationalists are generally taught it from a young age.  

Nationalism doesn’t have to be a negative. To the contrary, many people who identify as such can articulate the difference between having an affection for the people and the society into which they were born, or chose, and their radical distrust of the government they live under. But those who can’t (or won’t) separate the State from their neighbor, have been shown in history to be the ones who either become the order-follower, or blindly worship and make excuses for them. 

The much rarer trait is to see someone raised as a radical individualist. Homeschooling numbers from 1990- 2019 have grown from 275,000 to 2,300,000. Reasons for wanting to keep your children out of government schools can vary. Some of the earliest started out for religious reasons. Today, many people who call themselves libertarians/anarchist/voluntaryists do it because they don’t want their children to grow up in an environment which fosters and actively promotes obedience to the State apparatus.  

Law Enforcement Worship 

From a young age, many parents teach their kids that law enforcement are the good guys and if they ask you a question, you better answer and be respectful. You can be respectful and still understand the nature of the job of the police in this country. They are evidence gatherers. That is their main task since they rarely show up in time to stop a crime. They have rightfully been referred to as “historians.” If a statute has been broken, it is their job to figure out who did it and they do this by detaining or arresting people and asking them questions. 

Any lawyer worth their salt will tell you to never answer questions unless they, or another attorney is present, even if you know you are not guilty. In the must-read book, “You Have the Right to Remain Innocent,” James Duane details by citing case upon case how innocent people have talked their way into losing decades of their lives even though they didn’t commit the crime of which they were convicted. He explains how police can ask you 100 questions, and while you may have answered 98 of them correctly, even proving your innocence, the 2 that you answer in a wishy-washy way can be used to convict you while the other 98 (ones that prove your innocence) will be thrown away and declared inadmissible in court. 

This continues to be a blight on the criminal “justice” system and police officers are aware that this happens. Yet they continue to do their job as they always have with no regard for whether they are contributing to the jailing of an innocent person. They, and their defenders, will often blame it on the prosecutors. Yes, they will pass the buck so to speak. And what is their excuse? It’s just part of the job and we are “just following orders.” “We’re just doing our jobs!” 

Military Members are Beyond Reproach 

At this point in the “War on Terror” it’s impossible to argue that those fighting it are expected to be held up as heroes by the government and general public, even to the point of excusing the worst atrocities and war crimes imaginable. 

Recently, president Trump granted clemency to war criminal, special operations chief Eddie Gallagher. Gallagher, a Navy Seal and platoon leader, is described as, “a “toxic” character who was “OK with killing anything that moved”, according to fellow Iraq veterans who reported his conduct to military investigators.” “In the interviews, conducted by navy investigators looking into Gallagher’s conduct during a tour of duty in Iraq in 2017, fellow platoon members told of a ruthless leader who stabbed a captive to death for no reason then forced his troops to pose for a photograph with the corpse.”  

At his court martial Gallagher was acquitted of murder but lost rank because of the pictures posing with the dead body. “In a lengthy criminal investigation report, the navy detectives laid out other allegations against Gallagher, including shooting a schoolgirl and elderly man from a sniper’s roost. Members of Alpha Platoon’s Seal Team 7 alarmed by their leader’s conduct said they were initially shut down by military chiefs when they first spoke up, and told their own careers would suffer if they continued to talk about it” 

“The guy is freaking evil,” special operator first class Craig Miller, one of the platoon’s most experienced members, told investigators in sometimes tearful testimony. “I think Eddie was proud of it, and that was, like, part of it for him.” 

This is the man Trump gave clemency from any future charges to. And when he did, Gallagher’s defenders came out of the woodwork to defend him from anyone who dared make the claim that this man not only deserves to be locked up, but that his sanity should be called into question. Trump went so far as to hint that he would take Gallagher out on the campaign trail with him. 

Eddie Gallagher was the platoon leader, the one who gave the orders. But he also took them. Testimony shows that these military chiefs did everything they could to protect Gallagher. Even threatening those under his command if they spoke of this. It’s hard to judge from afar whether those men who posed with the dead body wanted to, or they were just following orders and feared retribution. When you see that Gallagher’s bosses actively sought to protect him, is it unreasonable to ask whether Gallagher was “just following orders” when he committed these atrocities? 

As was stated at the start, “order-followers” have found themselves on the wrong side of history when it comes to decency, not to mention liberty. Their defenders are vocal and can rarely be reasoned with. They see people in these positions as heroes and will make any excuse for actions that could be stood right next to the worst atrocities committed by Pol Pot. As we progress into a future where it is clear that the overwhelming majority of people intend to grow the size and scope of government, those who value individual liberty and justice may have to decide whether they will stick it out and attempt to change this culture, or look for alternate solutions lest they wake up in a State in which their every deed and word is under the purview of the unthinking automaton. 

Short-sighted state governments rack up $1 Trillion in liabilities

Short-sighted state governments rack up $1 Trillion in liabilities


As if the national debt and federal entitlement liabilities weren’t enough. Now we get word that state governments have racked up more than a trillion dollars in unfunded healthcare benefits for state government workers. That’s trillion – with a ‘T’.

In a report released earlier this month, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) revealed the total, adding “That’s an average of $3,107 of unfunded OPEB liabilities for every resident of the United States.” 

The financial liabilities, labeled “Other post-employment benefits,” or OPEB for short, calculate the present value of health insurance coverage benefits promised to state government employees when they retire.

Virtually every state government promises fully- or partially- paid health insurance coverage to their employees in retirement.  

More than 40 percent of the benefit plans, according to the ALEC report, operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, meaning there has been no money set aside. And the states that do set aside some funds to help pay for the benefits typically don’t set aside much. Indeed, the ALEC report notes “The average funding ratio for state OPEB plans is 9.4%.”

States with the highest OPEB liabilities per capita are Alaska at $18,500 followed by New Jersey at $14,500 and Hawaii at $12,200.

The liability totals disclosed in the ALEC report differ from the “official” figures produced by most state governments, however. This is because ALEC uses a more realistic discount rate to calculate the present value of the liabilities. State governments are notorious for using impractical discount rates in order to make liabilities look less daunting.

This latest trillion-dollar revelation of yet more irresponsible government promises turning into taxpayer-crushing liabilities illustrates a key point made by Hans-Hermann Hoppe in his 2001 book “Democracy: The God That Failed.”

Because a politician’s top priority is getting re-elected, they have a high time preference. That is, they place a high priority on spending now with little regard for future consequences, because several years down the road they will no longer be in office and the mounting debt and liabilities will become someone else’s problem.

Referring to elected officials in a democracy as “temporary caretakers” of government assets and finances, Hoppe wrote that such caretakers are “not held liable for debts incurred during his tenure of office. Rather, his debts are considered ‘public,’ to be repaid by future (equally nonreliable) governments.”

There is no incentive for elected politicians in a democracy to concern themselves with the long-term value of the government’s financial condition. “A democratic ruler can use the government apparatus to his personal advantage, but he does not own it,” wrote Hoppe. Because there is no ownership, politicians are incentivized to use the resources temporarily at their disposal for their own personal gain, which often results in long-term financial pain.

Which brings us back to the OPEB liabilities faced by state governments. For decades, state politicians have promised generous retirement benefits to state employees to curry favor (and donations) from state employees, and to access the deep pockets of state government unions.

Such retiree health benefits for state government employees are far more generous than the private sector, where owners need to be more conscious of long-term financial implications.

According to this recently-released report by the Manhattan Institute, the growing OPEB liabilities have “also revealed the extent of the gulf between the public and the private sectors. Larger private-sector firms began to offer retiree health-care coverage in the 1940s, but new accounting rules issued in the 1980s drove most firms to halt the practice.”

The report continues, “The portion of large and midsize firms offering retiree health benefits fell from 45% in 1988 to 24% in 2017. Smaller companies were less likely to offer such benefits. Today, only 15% of private-sector workers have access to employer-provided retiree health benefits. In contrast, 70% of state and local workers are eligible for employer-provided retiree health benefits.”

Naturally, politicians who are merely temporary caretakers of money taken from citizens by force will be quite willing to exchange generous benefits for better odds of winning re-election. 

Leftists accuse capitalists of being greedy and self-interested. But the latest revelation of another trillion-dollar government liability underscores the greed and self-interest of the political class. Short-sighted desire to win the next election and maintain power is the driving force behind mounting government debt and liabilities. Not some altruistic desire to take care of others.

A free society based on private property would not only be morally preferable but would enjoy a far better preservation and accumulation of wealth. Private ownership incentivizes the increase of asset values, while democratic government incentivizes elected officials to use up resources in the short-term for personal gain at the expense of impoverishing future generations through crushing debt.  

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

The Establishment Feels the Bern

The Establishment Feels the Bern

With the rise of Bernie Sanders in the polls, the establishment is worried. The prospect of a two-way race between Trump and Sanders in the general election has the powers-that-be out in full force.

The problem is that they don’t want to make it look too obvious with their opposition to Bernie. Many people, particularly Bernie supporters, already feel that the DNC rigged the primaries against Bernie in 2016.

Hillary Clinton obviously sought to take the nomination in 2016 (and would take it in 2020 if given the chance) because her goal is political power. But the issue is a little more complex regarding why the establishment fears a Bernie presidency.

Bernie is disliked by the establishment for similar reasons as Trump. They both sometimes tell the truth, particularly in regards to U.S. foreign policy.

There is a difference between the average person on the street who is a Trump hater and those within the power network of Washington DC. Someone may hate Trump because of his brashness, his rude Tweets, and his overall arrogant demeanor.

This does not get to the core hatred from the establishment. They don’t like Trump mostly because of his inconsistent views on foreign policy. They want someone consistent, but not consistent in the views of someone like Ron Paul. They want someone who will uphold the aims of the U.S. empire and military-industrial complex.

Trump sometimes tells the truth. He sometimes makes gestures towards peace, at least rhetorically. But even when he is siding with the regime, his truth telling can still be damaging.

For instance, he said that U.S. troops would stay in Syria to control the oil. This is no different from previous administrations, but Trump bluntly told the truth, which the establishment doesn’t like because it can de-legitimize U.S. foreign interventions.

And this may be the greatest thing Trump has done on behalf of liberty. His policies have been mostly horrible (continuing the tradition), but he is helping to de-legitimize the U.S. empire. Sometimes it is inadvertent, but we should take what we can get.

Of course, Trump has had some good things to say on foreign policy, particularly when he was campaigning. He said that we were lied into war in Iraq. He said he wanted to get along with Russia. This most likely explains why the establishment doesn’t like him. They are afraid that he may follow through on some of his rhetoric and that it will be persuasive to the American public.

Trump Over Bernie

The establishment doesn’t hate Bernie because he has described himself as a socialist. I doubt that Wall Street is even that worried. If stocks begin falling prior to the election, Trump will try to blame it on the prospect of a Bernie Sanders presidency. But if stocks do fall, it will be because we are in a massive bubble (which Trump described in 2016 before the bubble got bigger).

Bernie’s domestic policies do seem scary, but they are likely no bigger a threat than any of the other presidential contenders. We already have a disastrous healthcare system. It’s possible Bernie could get his universal healthcare system (i.e., government healthcare), but that is still somewhat of a long shot.

In terms of spending, it really can’t get any worse than it already is. We have one trillion dollar deficits, and this is during a supposedly prosperous period. If anything, the Republicans in Congress may actually start caring about federal spending again if Bernie is in the White House.

The reason the establishment is against Bernie is mainly due to foreign policy. They are afraid he might disrupt the military-industrial complex.

I don’t have a great degree of confidence that a Bernie presidency will lead to a significant change in U.S. foreign policy, but it’s certainly more likely than with a Biden or Buttigieg presidency. But we shouldn’t be fooled.

Bernie is rather weak. After having the DNC snatch the nomination from him in 2016, he endorsed the bloodthirsty Hillary Clinton, who never met a war she didn’t like. That alone should tell you how strong Bernie will be in office.

It is also important to consider that Bernie puts little emphasis on foreign policy. He tends to be good on the issue (relatively speaking) when asked, but he is more obsessed about taxing the top 1% than he is about stopping the bombing of innocent people in foreign countries.

Even though we don’t know for sure how a Sanders presidency would turn out, it is certain that the establishment media and the rest of the cesspool in Washington DC are trying to prevent his nomination because of the uncertainty. He may actually follow through with some of the things he says, and they can’t take that risk.

If Bernie actually gets the nomination, I think the establishment may quietly side with Trump. They would rather the devil (from their perspective) they know. Trump has been in office for over 3 years, and while he has done some damage rhetorically to the establishment, foreign policy has not changed much up to this point. The wars go on.

With Bernie, there is more uncertainty. Therefore, the military-industrial complex and the rest of the establishment may prefer Trump over Sanders. It would not be surprising if they put someone up like Michael Bloomberg to run as an independent in the general election in order to take votes away from Sanders. It would split the anti-Trump votes.

It will largely depend on how Bernie acts if he gets the nomination. I think he will moderate his views in the general election. He won’t call himself a socialist when he is up on stage debating Trump. He will come across as more reasonable, at least on domestic issues.

The big question will be his views on foreign policy. The establishment will try to get close to him in order to control him. If Bernie starts hiring foreign policy advisers who have been pro war in the past, then they will feel reasonably comfortable that they can control him.

It will be a different story if Bernie keeps speaking against U.S. wars and interventions. If he suggests having someone like Tulsi Gabbard as Secretary of State, then the establishment will really flip out. They will prefer Trump at that point. You will see the establishment media change its tune on Trump. They won’t be outright nice to him, but they will quietly change the narrative to make Bernie look like more of a crazy person.

The good news in all of this is that we have reached a point where the deep state is not in full control. We could have a general election with two candidates who are not approved by the establishment. Regardless of how bad they may govern, this is still a positive sign for liberty.

Compulsory Education – The Bane of Learning and Freedom

Compulsory Education – The Bane of Learning and Freedom

Approximately 50-million students, bound by state compulsory attendance laws, are trapped in what is essentially a prison of their bodies and minds.

Most Americans never question school compulsory attendance laws itself but instead focus on what occurs inside the classroom. Public schools, which can also be called government schools, are notorious for a wide array of problems. From class size to the controversy over testing to disruptive student behavior, the demand that more taxpayer money be used to correct the poor performance is touted as the answer. This completely disregards two points: 1. The benefit-cost ratio of government education of children is often a losing deal. (Private schools are frequently smaller, religious affiliated, and in many cases cost less to educate each student than the public counterparts.) 2. More important, compulsory education violates the liberty of all citizens – taxpayers and students alike, not only by forcing parents to subject their children to a state education but also with the coercive funding (i.e., taxation) used to force children’s attendance.

My principal objection to compulsory education is that it violates the freedom of the individual. No one should be required to give up personal sovereignty to comply with a state or federal government mandate — not through military conscription and not through compulsory education.

From its earliest days, our nation functioned well without compulsory education laws, and the minimal involvement of government enabled youth to choose trade/vocational training, religious study, or higher education relevant to the individual’s personal choice. As the idea of compulsory attendance began to develop in society, it became increasingly repressive, decade by decade. Parochial schools and family home-schooling were replaced by laws forcing attendance for most students at government schools.

Government-run schools and compulsory attendance to any school are the antitheses of freedom, liberty, and learning. Forced to attend a school, most will go to government schools. Students are treated as prisoners sentenced to serve 12 years (or less in some states). Years of children’s precious lives and vulnerable minds are spent in forced confinement, often subjected to aimless busywork to meet the demands of teachers. The individual is not valued in many government schools, as all focus is on becoming an upstanding member of the collective. Leftist indoctrination has become ubiquitous. Independent thinking is discouraged while group-think pervades nearly every aspect of the politicized curriculum. All of this in the name of bettering children’s lives.

The oppression is accepted by the majority who learn quickly how to gain approval from their masters, with students who rebel sadly turning to personally and socially destructive behaviors. While many passively accept this oppression, the individuals who would be better suited to pursue unique aptitudes suffer.

With rare religious exceptions recognized, the vast majority of American youth must obey by attending such schools or face various penalties and punishments, as well as sometimes the possibility of fines and jail time for parents. Gone are the days where educational choices were up to the young person and his family.

The result of youth being exposed to years of socialist ideas explains the rampant decline of basic knowledge and generation upon generation of graduating seniors with minimal ability to do much of anything aside from obeying orders. All too many high-school graduates display poor writing skills and an inadequate ability to engage in critical thinking on simple matters.

The collective is placed above the individual. From rewards for just showing up to ribbons for all, disallowing students to give one another a card or a simple gift unless all are given one, to situational ethics role-playing scenarios, students are continuously subjected to an agenda that discourages independent thought. High achievement is discouraged as competition is rejected while poor performers are made to feel equal to all. Critical thinking and actual substantive course work are replaced by leftist revisionism of history, identity politics, and advocacy of politically correct perceptions of life.

Free speech, a fundamental of our nation, is not only not valued, but it is also suppressed. Subtle and patent discrimination of those not conforming to the frequently liberal agenda pervades government education. After years of this beginning when very young, the mental and emotional development is stunted, and the socialist mindset is placed — exactly what an all-powerful government wants — an easily controlled and manipulated unquestioning populous.

All of this occurs simply because the American people have never questioned the premise of compulsory education.

While conservatives work to offer alternatives such as vouchers/home-schooling/economic methods to provide choice, those who value liberty realize compulsory education is not an area for mere reform, it is a clear violation of the rights of the individual and as such should be eliminated.

The rights of millions of young Americans are violated daily by forcing children to attend schools. Likewise, the rights of Americans who are forced to fund state schools are violated.

Education should be a personal responsibility, not a public one. Like so many other important aspects of life that the government now controls, the education of children should be left entirely up to the parents and the private sector with its charitable and private enterprises, with attendance voluntary.

A fundamental rejection of any government involvement in education, including all laws requiring compulsory attendance, must be the focus. It is not enough to try and end the government monopoly in education, the link between government and any educational opportunity should be ended.

Just as compulsory attendance began with one state mandating it and the idea spreading nationwide, our country could begin to end this tyranny if one state legislature courageously challenged and eliminated compulsory attendance.

America needs educational freedom – freedom from all government intervention. Let’s begin it with an end to compulsory attendance.

Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Democrats Ignore Trump’s Real Violations

Democrats Ignore Trump’s Real Violations

This week the latest Democratic Party attempt to remove President Trump from office – impeachment over Trump allegedly holding up an arms deal to Ukraine – flopped. Just like “Russiagate” and the Mueller investigation, and a number of other attempts to overturn the 2016 election.

We’ve had three years of accusations and investigations with untold millions of dollars spent in a never-ending Democratic Party effort to remove President Trump from office.

Why do the Democrats keep swinging and missing at Trump? They can’t make a good case for abuse of power because they don’t really oppose Trump’s most egregious abuses of power. Congress, with a few exceptions, strongly supports the President flouting the Constitution when it comes to overseas aggression and shoveling more money into the military-industrial complex.

In April, 2018, President Trump fired 100 Tomahawk missiles into Syria allegedly as punishment for a Syrian government chemical attack in Douma. Though the US was not under imminent threat of attack from Syria, Trump didn’t wait for a Congressional declaration of war on Syria or even an authorization for a missile strike. In fact, he didn’t even wait for an investigation of the event to find out what actually happened! He just decided to send a hundred missiles – at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars – into Syria.

We are now finding out from whistleblowers on the UN team that investigated the alleged attack that the report blaming the Syrian government was falsified and that the whole “attack” was nothing but a false flag operation.

Is such unauthorized aggression against a country with which we are not at war not worth investigating as a potential “high crime” or “misdemeanor”?

Last month, President Trump authorized the assassination of a top Iranian General, Qassim Soleimani, and a top Iraqi military officer inside Iraqi territory while Soleimani was on a diplomatic mission. Trump and his Administration tried to claim that the attack was essential because of an “imminent threat” of a Soleimani attack on US troops in the region.

We found out shortly afterward that they lied about the “imminent threat.” The assassination was not “urgent” – it was planned back in June. Trump then claimed it didn’t matter whether there was an imminent threat: Soleimani was a bad guy so he deserved to be assassinated.

But the attack was an act of war on Iran without Congressional declaration or authorization for war. Is that not perhaps a “high crime” or “misdemeanor”?

We are finding out that, contrary to Trump claims, Soleimani was not even behind the December attack on US troops in Iraq. New evidence suggests it was actually an ISIS operation attempting to goad the US into moving against Iraq’s Shia militias.

Fantasies about Trump being an agent of Putin or trying to get Ukraine to help him win the election are presented as urgent reasons Trump must be removed from office. Real-life violations of the Constitution and reckless militarism that may get us embroiled in another Middle East war are shrugged off as “business as usual” by both Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

Democrats won’t move against Trump for what may be real “high crimes” and “misdemeanors” because they support his overseas aggression. They just wish they were the ones pulling the trigger.

Reprinted from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity

The Louisville Metro Police Department Child Sex Scandal

The Louisville Metro Police Department Child Sex Scandal

Civil libertarians and police corruption watchdogs have much to celebrate these days. The fact that most people are walking around with high definition video cameras in their pockets has done much to shine a light on what these groups have been talking about for decades; that the “occupation” of law enforcement in the United States ceased being about protecting and serving, and has morphed into intimidating and subjugating.  

Whether it be turning a traffic stop for a burned-out brake light into a drug search, or it actually becoming a “head stomping” opportunity for a Gwinnett County sheriff, even people who formerly considered police to be heroes, are starting to question why as individual violent crime is decreasing, police violence is increasing.  Of course, many have become accustomed to these stories as sites such as The Free Thought Project chronicle them daily, but the scandal that has come out of Louisville, Kentucky involving two police officers’ sexual abuse of children in their Explorer Program should sound alarms and question whether policing in its modern form is an anachronism. 

Allegations of Sexually Abusing Children  

Former Louisville Metro Police officers Kenneth Betts and Brandon Wood were accused of criminal charges “in Jefferson Circuit Court stemming from their alleged sexual abuse of teens under their supervision as part of a program for young people interested in law enforcement careers.” The allegations against Betts stretched from his first year in the department, 2006, through 2016. Federally, he was charged with sending pictures of his penis to someone under the age of 16 and attempting to have sex with males and females who were not yet 18. 

In U.S. District Court in Louisville on December 6, 2018, Betts pleaded “guilty to charges of knowingly distributing child pornography, possession of child pornography, transferring obscene material to a minor, enticement and attempted enticement, among other charges.” 

In addition, the State of Kentucky charged Betts with two counts of sodomy involving two alleged victims. The indictment in state court alleged Betts engaged in “deviant sexual intercourse” with one of the victims through the use of “forcible compulsion” over a five-month period in 2007. Betts was also accused of committing sodomy on July 26, 2013 with a minor “he came into contact with as a result” of his position as a police officer. Betts pleaded guilty to these charges on July 8, 2019 and received “five years for two counts of sodomy in the third degree. That sentence is on top of the 16 years he was handed down by a federal judge. The five-year sentences will run concurrent to the time he’ll serve in his federal sentence.” 

Officer Brandon Wood was charged, and pleaded guilty to attempted enticement, United States Attorney Russell M. Coleman said on January 28, 2019. “According to a plea agreement, between 2011 and 2012, Wood attempted to entice John Doe 1, who had not reached 18 years of age, to engage in sexual activity. Wood met Doe through the LMPD Explorer Program during a camp held in Bullitt County – where Wood was a counselor and sworn LMPD officer.” 

“A federal judge sentenced Brandon Wood, 33, to 70 months in prison on a felony attempted enticement charge on May 28, 2019.” 

“When he pleaded guilty in January, Wood reached an agreement with federal prosecutors for a 60-month sentence, but U.S. District Judge David Hale rejected that agreement Tuesday morning saying it was too lenient.” He was sentenced to 70 months in jail.  

Civil suits against the two officers are ongoing. 

The ‘Bombshell’ 

In the case of Kenneth Betts, as if his actions against minors wasn’t enough, in November of 2019, a fellow officer identifying himself as “Darryl,” came forward on a FOX-WDRB podcast to make the claim that he had been raped by Betts.  

“It was almost like a super power came over (Betts),” an accuser, identified only as Darryl in the podcast, told FOX News Reporter Andrew Keiper. “He had a hold of my ear, and he was still exposed in the front of his pants. We’ll just say he, yeah, he forced me, yeah.” 

Darryl describes himself as older and bigger than Betts but he has decided to not pursue a lawsuit. He hopes that by coming forward it will help others to do so. 

The interview took place in the first of a four-part podcast called “Derby City Betrayal.” The series details the investigation into the sexual abuse case against Betts and former LMPD officer Brandon Wood, as well as their subsequent arrests. 

In the same podcast series, one of the victims from the Explorers identified as C.F., now an adult, went into detail about what he experienced: 

“It was on a regular basis. (Betts) would ask for nude photos, ask for me to come over, all sorts of things,” C.F. said. “Some messed up things happened.” 

Considering the depravity involved in this story it’s easy to write it off as an anomaly but that doesn’t answer the question that if these two “bad apples” can find themselves in the same department (and a third officer to help them cover it up as well as a fourth accused of sexual abuse), how rampant is this activity amongst those that are seen as authority figures and our “protectors?” And how many of these go unreported due to fear of reprisal by “good guys” with guns? 

The argument has been made that to hand mortal men the kind of power that comes along with the profession of law enforcement officer will certainly attract those with evil intent. What better way for a sociopath or deviant to hide his crimes than behind a badge? As long as the government holds a monopoly on violence and force expect this to become more rampant, but as the information age progresses, anticipate that these malefactors will be exposed for who they really are. Looking at the damage being currently done by this vocation, we can only hope that people awaken to the realization that they are a danger to us all. 

The Red Flag Flying Over the Second Amendment

The Red Flag Flying Over the Second Amendment

The Second Amendment is the provision in the Bill of Rights that seems to scare people the most. Why?

The Second Amendment lays down the groundwork for the right to keep and bear arms. Specifically, it asserts that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is the only thing that can preserve a regulated militia, which is necessary to preserve liberty. And it cannot be infringed by other laws or federal officials.

In other words, the Second Amendment is based on the fact that a free state, in order to be ensured with security, must trust a militia formed by the people and, obviously, their guns.

However, this very amendment scares people the most, mainly because government authorities don’t know how to take it into account when it comes to gun control.

Contradictory Arguments

Gun control operates against the Second Amendment – and, as we all know, amendments cannot be easily broken.

For example, if a witness takes the Fifth in the Court of Law, no one can persuade them to answer any questions. Lawyers and jurors can suspect an answer, but the witness has the full right not to answer.

The same applies to the Second Amendment. It is a thing that is ensured to the American people, by law. It cannot be taken away – but how does gun control interfere with this?

  • If you carefully read the Second Amendment, you’d understand, as most people have, that the phrase the right of the people to keep and bear Arms asserts an individual right for all people in the United States.
  • As a result, the legislative bodies of the U.S can’t come up with laws that would prohibit firearm possession.
  • On the other hand, certain scholars believe that the Second Amendment was meant to restrict Congress from passing a law that would deny the state its right to self-defense. This is the so-called collective rights theory – it asserts that the individuals don’t actually have an individual right to possess firearms and that the federal government has the authority to regulate firearms without having to take an individual right into account.

The Double-Edged Sword

It goes without saying why there’s currently a red flag flying above gun control – and why the Second Amendment scares people the most. It’s because this very amendment can affect, solely, both parties of this debate.

Depending on how the higher authorities decide to rule in terms of gun control, they have to take the Second Amendment into account. Naturally, the worst part is that it can be seen from two different points of view – one that can establish gun control and one that makes it void.

The Historical Militia

On the other hand, we also have to take into account that the American people are kind of trying to make an 18th-century law fit our modern times. The truth is that, given the current state of the country, a militia may not be the right answer.

This is because, in the 18th century, it was believed that the citizens should all be part-time soldiers. Both Federalists and anti-Federalists, despite their disagreements, were devoted to this idea.

However, having a standing army was the ideal way to subvert the ideas of that time – namely, the ideas of the American Revolution that people had on their minds.

The Standing Army

Moreover, the Second Amendment was also meant to prevent the US from establishing a professional, standing army. Obviously, we couldn’t imagine the country not having the army it has today but, if we’re honest, the 18th century didn’t actually need this type of army.

According to the old times, a society that had a standing army couldn’t actually become free, mainly because the leaders of that army could turn their back to the society. Instead, as mentioned above, it was believed that a well-regulated militia was more fit to keep the state safe, secure, and free.

The Second Amendment Was Based on Gun Control

Even though the militia was very important and those who wrote the Bill of Rights wanted all of the citizens to be in it, they still left room for those that wouldn’t be part of the militia.

As history states, if an individual was not allowed to participate in the militia, then the leaders in the founding generation wouldn’t allow him access to weapons. Therefore, there were classes of people that could not bear arms – the fact that everybody used to own a gun back then doesn’t quite stand true.

Now versus Then

The Second Amendment scares people the most because of two very important reasons.

First, if the nation was to return to the old meaning of the amendment, there wouldn’t be any professional soldiers nor any army. Instead, every citizen had to be a part of the militia and, if need be, fight for their country.

Then, if we are to adapt the amendment to today’s circumstances, we’d come to the conclusion that it does not, in fact, prevent gun control laws – or stricter laws, at least. This is because the amendment stands for the safety and security of a free state and not for the right of an individual to self-defense.

Naturally, it is not implied that there shouldn’t be self-defense rights. It is only implied that they should come after gun control laws and, paired with the 2nd amendment, they must keep this free country safe.

The Bottom Line

In the end, the 2nd amendment can be considered a red flag on gun control. It’s a red flag mainly because the misinterpretation of the 2nd amendment could lead to a state with no gun control laws, where everyone has the personal right to bear arms.

Overall, it depends on how people understand the amendment first, and then the entire gun control thing. However, given the current situation of the state, it goes without saying that all people should fight for a better future, for both them and their children – and this means making the right choice!

Reprinted from the Tenth Amendment Center.

Ice and Fire

Ice and Fire

The relationship between conservatism and libertarianism is a tenuous one. However, such was not always the case. Fellow travelers of both groups were united in opposing Roosevelt’s New Deal. The work of the late economist Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) on the “Old Right” is indispensable here. After World War II, the political right was generally opposed, not only to “domestic statism,” but also to war, foreign intervention, and “American statism in the international arena.” But after the death of the political and intellectual leaders of the Old Right, the conservative movement — which “was basically classical liberal and libertarian” in the 1930s and 1940s — suffered a “power vacuum in both the political and the intellectual areas,” and was taken over and transformed “beyond recognition” by William Buckley (1925–2008) and those associated with him at National Review magazine. The “modern conservative movement” — after the departure of its libertarian element and the purging of “embarrassing extremists like the John Birch Society” — “combined a traditionalist and theocratic approach to ‘moral values,’ occasional lip service to free-market economics, and an imperialist and global interventionist foreign policy dedicated to the glorification of the American state and the extirpation of world Communism. Classical liberalism remained only as rhetoric, useful in attracting business support, and most of all as a fig leaf for the grotesque realities of the New Right.”

“At the heart of the dispute between the traditionalists and the libertarians,” says Rothbard, “is the question of freedom and virtue: Should virtuous action (however we define it) be compelled, or should it be left up to the free and voluntary choice of the individual?”

The disagreements between conservatism and libertarianism — the “uneasy cousins,” in the words of the conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet — were made public in the early 1960s in the pages of National Review and other lesser-known publications. No resolution was forthcoming, in spite of the “fusionist” efforts of Frank S. Meyer. Ronald Reagan, apparently, never got the memo.

In between his time as the governor of California and the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) was interviewed by Reason magazine in 1975 about his political philosophy. The first question he was asked was about conservatism and libertarianism: “Governor Reagan, you have been quoted in the press as saying that you’re doing a lot of speaking now on behalf of the philosophy of conservatism and libertarianism. Is there a difference between the two?” Here is his response: “If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals — if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”

When asked to give “some examples” of what he “would consider to be proper functions of government,” Reagan replied, somewhat libertarianishly, “Well, the first and most important thing is that government exists to protect us from each other.” He maintained that he didn’t “believe in a government that protects us from ourselves.” He recognized that “government’s only weapons are force and coercion and that’s why we shouldn’t let it get out of hand.” Although Reagan acknowledged that “the government has legitimate functions,” he also thought that “our greatest threat today comes from government’s involvement in things that are not government’s proper province.”

Yet when asked about the issue of “laws against gambling,” Reagan quickly abandoned any pretense of libertarianism and showed that he, like modern conservatives, had no firm philosophical foundation: “You’ve named an issue that is one of the most difficult for me to reconcile. I know this gets into the whole area of the sin laws and here again I think you’re in one of the grey areas. There’s one side of me that says I know this is protecting us from ourselves; there’s another side of me, however, that says you can make the case that it does get into an area in which we are protecting us from each other.”

The issue of “laws against gambling” is one of the least difficult for libertarians to reconcile. No government at any level should ever, for any reason, enact any laws against gambling. It’s that simple. This straightforward question shows that libertarianism and conservatism are not traveling “the same path” as Reagan said in his Reason interview. Their paths are going in opposite directions.

A contemporary and admirer of Reagan, conservative icon Russell Kirk (1918–1994), saw things differently. Although conservatives and libertarians “share a detestation of collectivism” and “set their faces against the totalist state and the heavy hand of bureaucracy,”

In the nature of things, conservatives and libertarians can conclude no friendly pact. Adversity sometimes makes strange bedfellows, but the present successes of conservatives disincline them to lie down, lamblike, with the libertarian lions.

When heaven and earth have passed away, perhaps the conservative mind and the libertarian mind may be joined in synthesis, but not until then.

I venture to suggest that libertarianism, properly understood, is as alien to real American conservatives as is communism.

Conservatives have no intention of compromising with socialists; but even such an alliance, ridiculous though it would be, is more nearly conceivable than the coalition of conservatives and libertarians. The socialists at least declare the existence of some sort of moral order; the libertarians are quite bottomless.

What else do conservatives and libertarians profess in common? The answer to that question is simple: nothing. Nor will they ever have. To talk of forming a league or coalition between these two is like advocating a union of ice and fire.

Why, then, do some people have the idea that conservatism and libertarianism are cousins, or at least compatible? Before answering this question, it is first necessary to take a closer look at conservatism and libertarianism.

Conservatism

What is conservatism? I will let conservatives explain it.

In his book The Conservative Mind (1953), Kirk listed and described “six canons of conservative thought” that he considered to be a summary of themes common to conservative thinkers:

  1. Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life.
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes.
  4. Persuasion that property and freedom are inexorably connected.
  5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.”
  6. Recognition that change and reform are not identical.

In the introduction to his anthology The Portable Conservative Reader (Penguin, 1982), which includes essays, poetry, and fiction from writers that he identified as conservatives, Kirk offered a variation on his six canons, which he termed “first principles.” Kirk’s “canons” were revised and expanded in subsequent editions of The Conservative Mind.

In his book The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Conservatism (1957), Kirk listed ten of “the chief principles which have characterized American conservative thought”:

  1. Men and nations are governed by moral laws.
  2. Variety and diversity are the characteristics of a high civilization.
  3. Justice means that all men and women have the right to what is their own.
  4. Property and freedom are inseparably connected; economic leveling is not economic progress.
  5. Power is full of danger; therefore the good state is one in which power is checked and balanced, restricted by sound constitutions and customs.
  6. The past is a great storehouse of wisdom.
  7. Modern society urgently needs true community; and true community is a world away from collectivism.
  8. In the affairs of nations, the American conservative feels that his country ought to set an example to the world, but ought not to try to remake the world in its image.
  9. Men and women are not perfectible, conservatives know; and neither are political institutions.
  10. Change and reform, conservatives are convinced, are not identical: moral and political innovation can be destructive as well as beneficial.

In his book The Politics of Prudence (1993), Kirk returned again to “principles,” presenting “a summary of conservative assumptions differing somewhat” from the “canons” and “principles” found in his earlier books. In introducing his new “ten articles of belief,” he said that they “reflect the emphases of conservatives in America nowadays.”

Next is George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America (1996, second ed.):

What is conservatism? For those who have examined the subject, this is a perennial question; many are the writers who have searched for the elusive answer. Such an a priori effort, I have concluded, is misdirected. I doubt that there is any single, satisfactory, all-encompassing definition of the complex phenomenon called conservatism, the content of which varies enormously with time and place. It may even be true that conservatism is inherently resistant to precise definition. Many right-wingers, in fact, have argued that conservatism by its very nature is not an elaborate ideology at all.

So I offer here no compact definition of conservatism. In fact, American conservatives themselves have had no such agreed-upon definition. Instead, the very quest for self-definition has been one of the most notable motifs of their thought since World War II.

And then there is Bruce Frohnen, writing in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (2006):

Conservatism is a philosophy that seeks to maintain and enrich societies characterized by respect for inherited institutions, beliefs and practices, in which individuals develop good character by cooperating with one another in primary, local associations such as families, churches and social groups aimed at furthering the common good in a manner pleasing to God.

Conservatives are attached, not so much to any particular regime or form of government, as to what they believe are the requirements for a good life for all peoples. In the American context, conservatives defend the ordered liberty established by the Constitution and the traditions and practices on which that constitution was built.

Conservatives believe that there is a natural order to the universe, governed by a natural law that gives mankind general rules concerning how to shape their lives in common as individuals.

Nathan W. Schlueter, coauthor of Selfish Libertarians and Socialist Conservatives? The Foundations of the Libertarian-Conservative Debate (2017), has a hard time defining conservatism, since it “is not a specific philosophy of government but a generic term that can have a wide range of specific meanings, depending on context.” Nevertheless, he does say,

Conservatism seeks to “conserve” the best elements of that [Western philosophical and political] tradition.

Conservatism rests on a recognition of the mutual interdependence of liberty, tradition, and reason.

American conservatism is committed to conserving the principles of the American founding, and to renewing the models of political leadership that gave those principles life.

It seems as though the only thing that conservatives can say with absolutely certainty is that they don’t exactly know what conservatism is. But it is no wonder that conservatism suffers from not having any clear, concise, coherent, and consistent definition. Contrary to its name, conservatism changes with convictions, circumstances, country, and consensus. Conservative godfather Kirk readily acknowledges that:

Conservatism is not a fixed and immutable body of dogma, and conservatives inherit from Burke a talent for re-expressing their convictions to fit the time.

The diversity of ways in which conservative views may find expression is itself proof that conservatism is no fixed ideology. What particular principles conservatives emphasize during any given time will vary with the circumstances and necessities of that era.

Although certain general principles held by most conservatives may be described, there exists wide variety in application of these ideas from age to age and country to country.

Conservatism amounts to the consensus of the leading conservative thinkers and actors over the past two centuries.

Concludes Kirk, “Conservatism offers no universal pattern of politics for adoption everywhere.”

Libertarianism

In contrast to the confusion and contradictions of conservatism, there is the simplicity and consistency of libertarianism. For a compact definition of libertarianism, here is Future of Freedom Foundation president Jacob Hornberger: “Libertarianism is a political philosophy that holds that a person should be free to do whatever he wants in life, as long as his conduct is peaceful. Thus, as long a person doesn’t murder, rape, burglarize, defraud, trespass, steal, or inflict any other act of violence against another person’s life, liberty, or property, libertarians hold that the government should leave him alone. In fact, libertarians believe that a primary purpose of government is to prosecute and punish anti-social individuals who initiate force against others.”

Libertarianism is the philosophy of nonaggression, whether that aggression be theft, fraud, the initiation of nonconsensual violence against person or property, or the threat of nonconsensual violence. The initiation or threat of aggression against the person or property of others is always wrong, even when done by government. Aggression is justified only in defense of one’s person or property or in retaliation in response to aggression against him. Violence is justified only against violence. Force must be proportional, but is neither essential nor required.

There is nothing inherent in libertarianism that stands in opposition to custom, convention, tradition, natural law, Christian humanism, prudence, the natural order, religion, civilized society, moral laws, patriotism, the natural world, family values, community, civic pride, ordered liberty, an enduring moral order, cooperation, local associations, or the common good. And contrary to the smears of some conservatives, libertarianism has nothing to do with libertinism, greed, selfishness, antinomianism, hedonism, utopianism, materialism, atheism, anarchy, licentiousness, relativism, or nihilism. Likewise, libertarians qua libertarians don’t fetishize change, delight in eccentricity, sacrifice order on the altar of liberty, reduce everything to economics, deify efficiency, romanticize a fictional past, or celebrate alternative lifestyles.

Libertarianism celebrates individual liberty, personal and financial privacy, private property, free markets, free enterprise, free exchange, individual responsibility, personal freedom, free association, free assembly, voluntary interaction, freedom of conscience, free speech, and free expression — as long as one’s conduct is peaceful and doesn’t violate the personal or property rights of others.

The nature of conservatism

Beneath the conservative façade of tradition, culture, community, and prudence lies an authoritarian ideology. Conservatism is the philosophy of state-coerced morality and virtue. Conservatism is more interested in order, conformity, control, and orthodoxy than tradition, culture, community, and prudence. Conservatives are statists when the state does its bidding. They deem it just, right, and necessary for government at some level — (1) to arrest, fine, imprison, or otherwise punish people for engaging in entirely private, peaceful, voluntary, and consensual actions that do not aggress against the person or property of others; (2) to regulate, license, or prohibit commercial activity between willing buyers and willing sellers; and (3) to take people’s resources against their will, by force if necessary, and transfer or redistribute them to other citizens or foreigners as the government sees fit.

Conservatism is an authoritarian philosophy that looks to the state to arrest people and then fine them, appropriate their property, or lock them in cages for engaging in private consensual behavior or peaceful activity that doesn’t violate the personal or property rights of anyone.

Why?

Why, then, do some conservatives and libertarians, and many liberals, progressives, and socialists, have the idea that conservatism and libertarianism are cousins, or at least compatible? Consider these statements from the Conservative Review news site and the Heritage Foundation think tank: “Principle[s] such as limited government, free markets, traditional family values, individual freedom, rule of law, and a strong national defense are at the core of Conservative Review’s principles.” The Heritage Foundation promotes “conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

Conservative organizations also regularly include in their mantra adherence to the Constitution, federalism and States’ Rights, free trade, and private property.

The reason people think that conservatism and libertarianism are related, allies, or two sides of the same coin is that libertarians regularly talk about those very things. There is one major difference, however. Libertarians actually believe them, although they don’t confound the idea of national defense with national offense, as most conservatives do. Conservatives only selectively believe their own mantra. They don’t follow the Constitution in many areas. They reject federalism when it comes to things such as the drug war. The only limited government they desire is a government limited to control by conservatives. They don’t accept the freedom of individuals to do anything that’s peaceful as long as they don’t violate the personal or property rights of others. They don’t believe in the sanctity of private property. They think traditional values should be legislated by government. They confound free trade with managed trade. They don’t yearn for free enterprise and a free market in every area.

When conservative politicians want votes, and especially the votes of “libertarian-leaning” conservatives, they don’t talk about tradition, culture, community, and prudence. They instead use libertarian rhetoric to portray themselves as advocates of libertarian principles.

So Russell Kirk was right. There is no real affinity between conservatism and libertarianism. Conservatives and libertarians have about as much in common as ice and fire.This article was originally published in the January 2020 edition of Future of Freedom.

Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation.

The State Is a Predator. It Can’t Be Used to Achieve Libertarian Ends

The State Is a Predator. It Can’t Be Used to Achieve Libertarian Ends

Tyler Cowen, who is said to be “known as one of the libertarian world’s deepest thinkers,” recently wrote a blog post entitled “What Libertarianism Has Become and Will Become — State Capacity Libertarianism.” There, Cowen asserts that libertarianism “is now pretty much hollowed out,” because it has not been able to address an idiosyncratic list of problems ranging from climate change to improving K-12 education. Consequently, according to Cowen, “smart” classical liberals and libertarians “have evolved into a view, as if guided by an invisible hand.” This view Cowen dubs “State Capacity Libertarianism.“ (This name appears in bold font in the original post, seemingly belying Cowen’s claim that it is intended as an “entirely non-sticky name.”) According to Cowen those libertarians inexplicably passed over by the invisible hand of ideological enlightenment have drifted off into “Ron Paul-ism and less savory alt right directions.”

Cowen’s doctrine of State Capacity Libertarianism comprises eleven tenets encapsulated in a total of 719 words and, absent further elaboration, is surpassingly silly. The tenets are a hodgepodge of mundane facts, casual observations lacking supporting facts, and explicit or implicit value judgments postulated without argument. What State Capacity Libertarianism seems to boil down to in practice is the old-fashioned “mixed economy” as described by Paul Samuelson in a 1950s edition of his famous economics principles textbook. This is mixed with a heavy dose of nineteenth-century gunboat diplomacy to maintain the postwar Pax Americana, “extend capitalism and markets,” and “keep China at bay abroad.” Given Cowen’s prodigious intellectual reputation, this piece to me seems muddled and insubstantial and hardly warrants further discussion. (Jeff Deist has also provided a clear and concise refutation of Cowen’s main points.)

Cowen’s post, however, was clearly designed to provoke and boy, did it, with libertarians from every corner and outpost of the official movement and its borderlands weighing in (hereherehereherehere, and here). Now these responses are very much worth discussing because they confirm Cowen’s contention that mainstream libertarianism has been “hollowed out”—although hardly in the sense that he intended. Let me offer just two examples, from individuals I greatly admire and respect as scholars, economists, and dedicated libertarians.

David Henderson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, entitles his response “The Meaning of Libertarianism.” The title promises at least a brief elucidation of what in Henderson’s view are the core doctrines of libertarianism. Unfortunately, this is not forthcoming. Instead Henderson begins by embracing Cowen’s distinction between “smart libertarians” and unnamed others, presumably the dummies and the “unsavory.” However, contrary to Cowen, Henderson identifies smart libertarians with a few mainstream libertarian institutions. These comprise “three main organizations,” namely the Reason Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Mercatus Center affiliated with George Mason University. Ironically, the director of the Mercatus Center is none other than Tyler Cowen. It is not surprising, therefore, that for Henderson libertarianism means efficient solutions to economic and social problems promulgated by policy analysts at selected think tanks.

The bulk of Henderson’s article is thus confined to citations of research and anecdotes indicating how the free market and entrepreneurship would solve or alleviate the problems raised by Cowen, including traffic congestion, low-quality K-12 education, and climate change. Near the end of his article Henderson rehearses the venerable public choice argument demonstrating that the perverse incentive structure confronting politicians, bureaucrats, and voters in the political arena produces the inefficient outcomes that Cowen bemoans. This contrasts with the alignment of incentives guiding and coordinating the actions of consumers and producers in the market economy, which would conduce to a more efficient resolution of most of these problems.

Henderson does score cogent points against Cowen. But, in the end, Henderson’s version of libertarianism amounts to little more than economism, the narrow and hollow doctrine of enlisting market forces to improve social efficiency under the existing political regime. Henderson’s economistic approach to libertarianism is epitomized in Milton Friedman’s classic work Capitalism and Freedom.

Richard Ebeling, the prolific and prominent Austrian economist and libertarian, attempts to engage Cowen on a broader philosophical level than Henderson does. In his article, Ebeling extolls and warns against losing sight of the “classical liberal ideal.” This is all well and good, and like Henderson, Ebeling lands some telling blows against Cowen’s eccentric political credo. Ebeling’s critique is especially effective in demonstrating that government intervention leads to a distortion of economic calculation and the irrational allocation of scarce resources. But the reader looks in vain for a solid and inspiring statement of the classical liberal ideal.

In the end, Ebeling does not seem able to completely free himself from the economistic approach to libertarianism, lamenting “how difficult the logic of the ‘economic way of thinking’ can be for so many to, at first, grasp and understand.” As if learning economics by itself—even sound Austrian economics—will cause the scales to fall from the eyes of the deceived and subjugated masses and allow them to suddenly see the true nature of the state as a criminal enterprise and the great and immediate enemy of human freedom.

More generally, Cowen’s State Capacity Libertarianism harkens back to an older tradition that frankly places the state beyond and above society. In this view, the state is a nonmarginal actor whose task is to achieve certain collective outcomes intuited by Cowen or some other political philosopher. In order to achieve its ordained goals, however, the state must possess two things: 1. sufficient legal capacity to enforce its laws and regulations throughout the territory over which it exercises a monopoly of violence; and 2. sufficient legal fiscal capacity to extract from its subjects the needed resources, the quantity of which are rigidly fixed by its duties. Chief among these duties, according to Cowen, is “the maintenance and extension of capitalism” to promote economic growth. Additionally, the state needs to be “strong” and “centralized,” although not necessarily large in size or scope, to discharge its responsibilities. Hence, state capacity libertarianism.

In their response to Cowen, Henderson and Ebeling correctly point out that the state is an economic actor whose accretions of legal and fiscal capacity indeed involve opportunity costs and whose benefits are beyond calculation because they are not subject to the profit and loss test of the market. Thus, when the state pursues goals beyond providing public goods and a secure legal and enforcement framework for voluntary production and exchange, it inevitably distorts economic activity. Unfortunately In their eagerness to rebut Cowen, Henderson and Ebeling fail to recognize the germ of truth in Cowen’s conception of the state as wholly separate from society. In portraying the state as an integral part of economy and society they ignore its unique politicali.e., predatory, nature. Libertarianism becomes in their hands a recipe for constraining state action in the interest of optimizing social efficiency. This economistic, hollowed-out version of libertarianism may be called “state efficiency libertarianism.”

In contrast, hard-core, muscular libertarianism begins with the insight that the state is fundamentally different in nature from society and economy, and stands wholly apart from them. The main premise of state predation libertarianism, as we may call it, was expressed quite trenchantly by the men and women of the American Old Right, such as H. L. Mencken, Albert J. Nock, Frank Chodorov, Isabel Patterson, and Rose Wilder Lane, whose most eminent intellectual descendant was Murray Rothbard. From them came no talk of growing the state to adequate “capacity” or directing it on a path to social efficiency. For them the hallmarks of the state were its predatory nature and its existence apart from society. Let us conclude with two passages from Old Right authors along these lines.

Albert Jay Nock vividly exposed the predatory nature of the state in his brilliant article “The Criminality of the State”:

“the State’s criminality is nothing new and nothing to be wondered at. It began when the first predatory group of men clustered together and formed the State, and it will continue as long as the State exists in the world, because the State is fundamentally an anti-social institution, fundamentally criminal. The idea that the State originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. It originated in conquest and confiscation—that is to say, in crime….No State known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose. Like all predatory or parasitic institutions, its first instinct is that of self-preservation. All its enterprises are directed first towards preserving its own life, and, second, towards increasing its own power and enlarging the scope of its own activity. For the sake of this it will, and regularly does, commit any crime which circumstances make expedient.”

In his classic book The Rise and Fall of Society (pp. xix–xxi), Frank Chodorov emphasized how prior to the twentieth century most political philosophers and the general public correctly recognized the utter apartness and “otherness” of the state with respect to society:

“In times past, the disposition was to look upon the State as something one had to reckon with, but as a complete outsider. One got along with the State as best one could, feared or admired it, hoped to be taken in by it and to enjoy its perquisites, or held it at arm’s length as an untouchable thing; one hardly thought of the State as the integral of Society. One had to support the State—there was no way of avoiding taxes—and one tolerated its interventions as interventions, not as the warp and woof of life. And the State itself was proud of its position apart from, and above, Society. The present disposition is to liquidate any distinction between State and Society, conceptually or institutionally….The idea that this power apparatus is indeed the enemy of Society, that the interests of these institutions are in opposition, is simply unthinkable….[U]ntil the modern era, it was an axiom that the State bears constant watching, that pernicious proclivities are built into it.”

Reprinted from the Mises Institute.

Is Anarcho-Capitalism A Contradiction?       

Is Anarcho-Capitalism A Contradiction?       

Is it possible for a stateless society to adequately protect property rights?

Any Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist has no doubt been confronted with the assertion that a state is necessary to enforce the property rights so vital to a market-based, capitalist system. 

Is this true?

Defining the State 

Before proceeding any further, its imperative to establish what we mean when describing “the state.”

In a brilliant 1974 lecture entitled “Society Without a State,” presented online here, Murray Rothbard laid out a concise definition:

“Let me say from the beginning that I define the state as that institution which possesses one or both (almost always both) of the following properties: (1) it acquires its income by the physical coercion known as “taxation”; and (2) it asserts and usually obtains a coerced monopoly of the provision of defense service (police and courts) over a given territorial area.”

Rothbard further refined his description in describing the state as an organization, that by its use of physical coercion, “has arrogated to itself a compulsory monopoly of defense services over its territorial jurisdiction.”

The State Is Coercion

With the definition of a state established, what is the proper role of the state? For those minarchists who believe a state is necessary, they insist the proper role of the state is to protect the rights of individuals. Namely, to protect people from physical harm or theft.

Such protection however, requires police, investigators, courts, prisons and judges. How are these services to be funded? Via taxation, they’ll concede. 

However, the aggression used by the state to collect taxes violates the very theft the state is supposedly established to protect against. Intellectual consistency leads us to conclude that the state cannot simultaneously protect us from theft while committing it. 

Even those who believe in free, competitive markets as being the most moral and efficient method of production and exchange for all other goods and services, will nevertheless maintain that the state must provide a system of law enforcement and courts to carry out the protection of rights – including property rights.

In his essay, Rothbard begs to differ. “But it is certainly conceptually possible for such services to be supplied by private, non-state institutions, and indeed such services have historically been supplied by other organizations than the state.”

He continues, “My contention is that all of these admittedly necessary services of protection can be satisfactorily and efficiently supplied by private persons and institutions on the free market.”

To be clear, Rothbard is not naïve in his thinking, acknowledging that “mankind is a mixture of good and evil.” There is no utopian vision of a stateless society in which bad actors and aggression magically become extinct. He persuasively makes the case however, that voluntary arrangements for security and criminal justice would not only be fairer and more efficient, but tend to minimizeboth the opportunity and the moral legitimacy of the evil and the criminal” with the removal of the state’s monopoly on violence and provision of defense services.

Markets in Security

Beginning with security, we already see a robust system of private security being enlisted by businesses and individuals to protect their property, in no small part because the current system of government policing is not up to the task. 

We can look to the city of Detroit, in which last year it was reported the city has seen massive increases in private security companies providing protection because local citizens and businesses have lost faith in the government to keep their persons and property safe.

For those who can’t afford to pay directly for security, Rothbard wrote, widespread and affordable protection services could “be supplied by insurance companies who will provide crime insurance to their clients.”

“In that case,” he continued, “insurance companies will pay off the victims of crime or the breaking of contracts or arbitration awards and then pursue the aggressors in court to recoup their losses. There is a natural market connection between insurance companies and defense service, since they need pay out less benefits in proportion as they are able to keep down the rate of crime.”

As Rothbard demonstrated, understanding how society could transition to exclusively private security should not be that intellectually challenging. 

Why Not Markets in Criminal Justice?

This leads us, however, to the somewhat more difficult case of how to replace the government court system. In his essay, Rothbard asserts that “any society, be it statist or anarchist, has to have some way of resolving disputes that will gain a majority consensus in society.”

When protection agencies catch a criminal who has committed, or is in the act of committing, aggression against another’s person or property, there must a system in which victims can recoup their losses and/or ensure the perpetrator receives appropriate punishment. For this, Rothbard argued, a system of private, voluntary arbitration courts will suffice. 

Indeed, Rothbard cites a 1970 book written by the Harvard and University of Virginia educated legal scholar William C. Wooldridge entitled “Uncle Sam, the Monopoly Man.”  Even in 1970, Wooldridge wrote that “Arbitration has grown to proportions that make the courts a secondary recourse in many areas and completely superfluous in others.”

Again, just as in security, the market has been providing arbitration services to supplement the government court system’s shortcomings. 

Critics may object Rothbard wrote, “that arbitration only works successfully because the (government) courts enforce the award of the arbitrator.” 

“Wooldridge points out however, that arbitration was unenforceable in the American courts before 1920, but that this did not prevent voluntary arbitration from being successful and expanding in the United States and in England,” he continued.

Moreover, as Rothbard highlighted, Wooldridge pointed out “the successful operations of merchant courts since the Middle Ages, those courts which successfully developed the entire body of the law merchant. None of those courts possessed the power of enforcement.”

“In other words, private arbitration is, and has been for generations, successfully settling disputes,” Rothbard concluded.

The market process, Rothbard added, would ensure the most trustworthy arbitrators would rise to the top. “As in other processes of the market, the arbitrators with the best record in settling disputes will come to gain an increasing amount of business, and those with poor records will no longer enjoy clients and will have to shift to another line of endeavor,” he wrote.  

But how would the system of courts in a free society be funded?

“Courts might either charge fees for their services, with the losers of cases obliged to pay court costs, or else they may subsist on monthly or yearly premiums by their clients, who may be either individuals or the police or insurance agencies,” Rothbard argued. Entrepreneurial ingenuity and technological advancements would also produce funding mechanisms yet to be imagined. 

Conclusion

Rothbard’s essay serves as an outstanding introduction to the provision of security, law and courts in a stateless society. The enforcement of private property rights, contrary to anarcho-capitalist skeptics and critics, can indeed be capably handled through voluntary market exchanges. No corrupting and coercive influence of the government is needed.

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

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