December 13, 2017

The Myth of the Laissez Faire President

P20315-10a.jpgIt is generally accepted that one must wait several decades before looking back at an event or an era with sufficient “historical perspective.” Only from that vantage point can the significance and long-term effects of any piece of history be objectively observed, quantified, and analyzed. However, there is a dilemma inherent in this long-standing tradition. It is that there are always interested parties who wish to characterize significant events or eras in history in a way that suits their own agenda. As a result, by the time sufficient time has passed to satisfy the need for “historical perspective,” these interested parties have created an official story regarding the events in question and have had time to convince the majority of people that this official story is the truth. By the time a generation has passed, the official story has become both accepted history for academia and “conventional wisdom” for average citizens. Regardless of facts, reason, or any perspective whatsoever, the official story now is the truth.

Such has been the case countless time throughout American history. It is universally accepted that America’s Civil War started over slavery, and credits Abraham Lincoln with “freeing the slaves.” History and conventional also wisdom tells us that the quality of life of the working class in America declined during the industrial revolution, and credits the “progressive movement” for instituting needed reforms that saved the working class from capitalism. Most relevant to our situation in America today, history blames the Great Depression of the 1930’s on Herbert Hoover’s “laissez faire capitalism” and “unregulated free markets,” and credits FDR’s New Deal with ending the Depression and restoring prosperity.

When presented in the textbooks of high school history or college survey courses, there is a certain logic and reasonableness to these versions of historical events that makes them very easy to understand and accept. There is only one problem: none of them are true.

Americans are already familiar with the official story of our present crisis. Too much laissez faire capitalism” has resulted in an unprecedented crisis caused by predatory lenders, irresponsible borrowers, speculators, and other market participants acting in an environment with too little regulation. Without oversight, “unregulated free markets” naturally resulted in market players choosing short term profits over long-term prudence. This process was fueled during the past decade by George W. Bush’s “laissez faire policies.”

There is only one problem with this story – none of it is true, either. None of the problems we face today were caused by unregulated free markets and the policies of George W. Bush were in no way “laissez faire.” This is much more than an academic argument. The premise that unregulated capitalism is to blame for our present economic crisis is the basis for every action that our government is taking right now. If that premise is incorrect, then the results of action taken based upon it could be disastrous.

It is probably a good idea at this point to define some terms. Assuming that “laissez faire capitalism” and “free markets” mean the same thing, what I mean when I use those terms is this: a market economy where all exchanges of property are made with the mutual, voluntary consent of all parties to those transactions. While government’s role is limited in such a system, it is nevertheless crucial: to ensure that all transactions are made with the mutual, voluntary consent of all parties. To put it most succinctly, government’s role in a free market is to protect the property rights of each individual.

Is this what George W. Bush did or at least attempted to do? Let us examine the Bush economic policies and see for ourselves.

Bush campaigned on and did follow through upon a promise to cut taxes. He did this by reducing the income tax on the highest income earners and by sending each American family a “refund” of several hundred dollars. One might be tempted to argue that this was a move in the direction of free markets, as the returned money represented reductions of a government that had grown far beyond its role of defending life, liberty, and property. Thus, the tax money collected for these illegitimate functions was a violation of the property rights government was supposed to protect and the tax cuts were a partial remedy for those violations. This is what any self-respecting Republican would have you believe.

There is only one problem: there were no reductions in government. In fact, Bush greatly increased the size of the government with military and new entitlement spending. As a result, he ran huge deficits and doubled the national debt. Looked at objectively, there was a tenuous relationship at best between the money taxpayers had previously paid in taxes and the checks sent out by the government after all of that tax money was already spent. Furthermore, millions of Americans who hadn’t even paid taxes received “refund” checks anyway. Seen for what it was, this “tax refund” was merely a ploy to buy votes with other people’s money dressed up in Republican rhetoric, as well as a way to perpetuate debt-fueled consumerism for the benefit of President Bush’s friends in corporate America. Handing out money to people to whom it doesn’t belong has nothing to do with free markets, whether that money is borrowed from other nations or printed out of thin air. It represents complete distortion of the markets by government, along with a fundamental violation of the property rights of present and future generations.

Amidst this confusion we seem to have forgotten one major contributor to the aforementioned deficits: the Medicare drug plan. The Medicare drug plan was the Bush administration’s program from start to finish, and it was rammed through the legislature despite its dubious administrative plan and complete lack of funding. While it was rightly criticized for both of these faults, no media outlet seems to have recognized its complete antagonism toward free markets. In addition to violating property rights by forcing one group of individuals to pay for the healthcare services of others, Medicare and other government health care programs completely distort the health care market, creating artificial demand that inflates prices and suspends market forces. Here we have another major component of President Bush’s policy that is the complete antithesis of laissez faire capitalism.

The mass illusion about this president’s policies doesn’t stop there. The American public also seems to think that major deregulation occurred under President Bush, but actually the exact opposite is true. It was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (repealing the Glass-Steagall Act) that lead to the massive expansion of derivates in the stock and real estate markets that helped fuel the housing bubble. However, this legislation was actually passed when President Clinton was still in office. In fact, Bush’s only significant effect on the regulatory structure was to increase regulation, not decrease it.

Due to the political fallout from the accounting scandals during the early years of Bush’s presidency, especially the Enron scandal, Bush championed new, completely unnecessary, and profoundly destructive regulations under the Sarbanes-Oxley act. Despite the fact that the accounting scandals were clear cases of fraud, which was already illegal and which could be prosecuted without a single new regulation, President Bush had a political need to show that he was “doing something” about corporate crime.

So, again in complete opposition to “free markets,” Bush signed Sarbanes-Oxley into law, saying as he did so that the bill represented “the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”[1] Invoking FDR should have been enough on its own to erase any perception of Bush as a champion of free markets, but the hated “laissez faire” moniker seems to be a tough one to shake. As we now know, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has been terribly destructive to American markets and has contributed to a migration of new investment away from America and to more business-friendly countries. Chalk up another victory for Bush against free markets.

Finally, there is Bush’s role in the housing bubble, the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back regarding America’s borrow and spend economy of the past several decades. Here it should be noted that the lion’s share of the blame for this debacle should go to the Federal Reserve System, which kept interest rates artificially low and expanded money and credit to counter what would have been two recessions in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Remember, the private Federal Reserve System does not answer to any branch of the federal government. One could certainly argue that both Clinton and Bush merely happened to be in office while the Federal Reserve blew up two massive bubbles during their presidencies (the NASDAQ bubble and the housing bubble).

However, it was not just low interest rates or the expansion of money and credit that caused the housing bubble to inflate. There was also the role of government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guaranteed mortgages that would not have been written in a free market. Starting with Clinton and continuing with Bush, the executive branch played cheerleader to the “ownership” society whereby every American was entitled to own their own home, whether they could afford the mortgage that went with it or not.

The mortgage debacle is often cited as an example of the “unregulated free market” producing negative results. Since both the “predatory lenders” and the “irresponsible borrowers” were acting voluntarily, the millions of subsequent defaults are characterized as the result of too little regulation on the market, allowing these freely-acting participants to eschew prudence for short-term profits. However, this analysis omits one very important fact: there were not two parties to most of these mortgage transactions, but three.

The forgotten third party was, of course, the taxpayer. It was the taxpayers’ money that was put up as collateral for the loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the taxpayer was not acting freely. The taxpayer was forced by government to back these loans without his consent and against his best interests. Had the government not committed this crime against property rights to serve its goal of an “ownership society,” none of the defaulting loans would have been made.

In a truly free market, the desire for profit is balanced by the presence of risk. When one is lending one’s own money, the possibility that the borrower will default forces the lender to adhere to high lending standards to avoid making a bad loan. This is not done out of some civic duty or professional integrity (not that many lenders don’t possess both of these qualities), but out of recognized necessity for economic survival. The balance between desire for profit and risk is a naturally occurring market force when all participants are acting voluntarily in their rational self interest. However, by allowing lenders and borrowers to use other people’s money as collateral, this natural market force was suspended. To go on to call the resulting disaster the result of “unregulated free markets” is nonsense in the first degree.

Ironically, Clinton and Bush each pursued the exact same policy regarding the housing market for very different reasons. Clinton pressured Fannie Mae to take more and more risk in order to play to his base: low-income Americans who would not qualify for a mortgage in a truly free market. Bush went right on encouraging the process in order to appease his base: Wall Street investment houses that were making a killing securitizing mortgages. Regardless of the motivation, what is important to realize is that this policy is completely antithetical to the concept of free markets or laissez faire capitalism.

Of course, once the crisis began, most people recognize that nothing President Bush did could be characterized as “laissez faire.” Bush himself admitted that he was abandoning free market principles because “the market is not functioning properly,” a bizarre statement from one who supposedly believes in free markets in the first place. His massive intervention into the economy and egregious redistribution of wealth are characterized by the media as a departure from his previous “laissez faire approach.” Yet, anyone can see that this “laissez faire approach” was complete fiction. So why do all but a few contrarians keep saying it anyway?
There is an answer to that question. Characterizing Bush’s policies as “laissez faire” does serve a very useful purpose for politicians. It provides them with justification to loot more property and seize more power. The all-out war on free enterprise presently being waged by President Obama and his cohorts in Congress would not be possible if most Americans did not believe the official story that Bush’s presidency was an era of “laissez faire capitalism” or “unregulated free markets” and that these policies caused the economic crisis. Only the continued willingness by the majority of Americans to swallow this economic gibberish allows the destruction of our liberty to march forward.

To my fellow Americans, I say this: No politician (save perhaps one) is going to come forward and tell you the truth. Most of them don’t know the truth, and those that do have figured out that this official nonsense serves their own ambitions, just as saying that the world was flat once served the ambitions of medieval rulers. It is up to you to rub your eyes and look at the world as it really is. Two plus two does not equal five and you know that. Similarly, people voluntarily exchanging their own goods and services with one another can never cause anyone harm and deep down you must know that, too. It is time to reject the idiotic history that is being written about our present difficulties and demand that the evil incursions into our liberty cease immediately. You have enormous power when you know what to demand. It all starts with recognizing the obvious despite the well-funded efforts of those who wish to deceive you. As the good book saith, the truth shall set you free.[2]

[1] Bumiller, Elisabeth (2002-07-31). “Bush Signs Bill Aimed at Fraud in Corporations“. The New York Times
[2] John 8:32

 

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

>A Crossroads

>

Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.”

– Samuel Adams The Rights of The Colonists (1772)[1]

Although the United States has the reputation as the most capitalist nation on earth, she is fast moving away from the principles of laissez faire capitalism, while formerly communist countries like China and Russia are moving closer to those principles. This is not surprising, given the 20th century history of China and Russia. Each rejected capitalism for communism, and each have already seen where the end of that road leads: poverty, starvation, mass murder, and totalitarianism. Russia and China have already had to face the fact that communism doesn’t work and reject it for a more free market economy, or face collapse and annihilation. To the extent that they have become freer, they have become more prosperous. To the extent that they still cling to the old ideals of communism or socialism, their progress is retarded.

The United States has not yet faced economic calamity on the scale of that faced by Russia or China, and that is due to the far lesser degree to which the United States has embraced socialism. Along with the western European countries that stood against communism throughout most of the last century, the United States has chosen the path of the “mixed economy,” attempting to mix elements of free market capitalism and socialism in an effort to more “equally” distribute the fruits of production, and to build a “social safety net” for those who at some point in their lives are unable to produce enough to meet their own needs.

However, if there is one common characteristic to the mixed economies of the west during the past century, it is economic decline. Certainly, there are temporary recoveries here and there by one country in relation to the others, but the overall quality of life for people in the mixed economies has been diminishing almost from the moment that they have decided to try to mix socialism with capitalism. Most people do not see the European Union for what it is: a temporary solution for a group of countries that became unable to sustain themselves economically on their own. This was not a result of new competition from emerging nations as much as the natural result of plundering the more productive members of society to support the less productive. Combining their economies under one currency and centrally planned economy merely allows the European Union to pool the productive capabilities of all of their societies, in order to create a larger surplus to plunder. However, the same forces that caused those nations to fail economically on their own will eventually overcome the group of nations together, as will be the result for the United States.

The United States has been able to avoid the economic collapses of the European economies largely due to the fact that it has “mixed” its economy with less outright socialism, at least in decades past. However, the compromises it did make with socialism were the cracks in America’s economic foundation, and as it has moved farther and farther toward socialism in recent decades, those cracks have begun to widen. Now America sits on the edge of the same economic precipice that overcame the economies of Europe. Those realities will become apparent within the next presidential term, possibly under dire circumstances.

Why doesn’t a mixed economy work? The answer is that even a mixed economy violates a fundamental moral and economic principle: property rights. While some might argue that a mixed economy attempts to combine a moral solution (economic equality) with a pragmatic one (productivity), a clear understanding of property rights shatters this fallacy. Violating property rights even for the purposes of achieving what some might regard as more “just” distribution of wealth is both ineffective AND immoral. If there is some transcendent justice in the world, it is that the practice of violating property rights is never successful in creating a sustainable economy.

It takes no monumental exercise of reasoning to see why capitalism has produced such enormous wealth so quickly wherever it has been practiced. In a complex society of millions of people, with each person making the most advantageous exchanges of property that they can, and with an incentive to consume less than they produce in order to realize savings for either capital or future retirement, productivity soars. Productivity in excess of what is consumed produces savings, or capital, which increases the means of production and results in even greater productivity. This was the system that made the United States the wealthiest nation on earth in one short century.

Thus, in economic terms, we have two identifiable extremes. Freedom is defined by the universal recognition of an unalienable right to the fruits of your labor. In contrast, slavery is the complete absence of ownership of the fruits of your labor. More than anything else, it is where a society falls between these two extremes that determines whether or not a society is free. The United States was once as close to the freedom extreme as may be possible for a society of flawed human beings.

Socialism does not recognize a person’s ownership over the fruits of his labor, nor his right to freely exchange those fruits with others. In a socialist system, the fruits of labor are distributed by the state as the state deems fit, not by the free exchanges between their citizens. Thus, their citizens do not enjoy the most basic right that makes them free, nor does the economy benefit from the fundamental building block of productivity.

Even in a mixed economy, where citizens retain some property rights, some of the fruits of their labor are still taken by government and redistributed without their consent. In the United States, this occurs through massive social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Public Welfare. While Social Security and Medicare are funded partially by the contributions of the beneficiaries, there is no effective controlling mechanism to distribute benefits proportionately according to contribution, although Social Security has a crude methodology attempting to do so. More importantly, these programs violate the vital principle of consent. The participants in the programs do not participate voluntarily, but under the coercive power of government. Thus, ownership of the fruits of their labor is not respected in terms of the monies taken from them to fund the programs.

The violation of property rights does not stop with providing for the poor or elderly, but for corporate welfare as well. In an attempt to “manage the economy,” public funds are also used by the government to bail out failed corporations that are deemed “too big” or “too important” to be allowed to go bankrupt. This not only violates the rights of the people whose property is confiscated in order to underwrite these bailouts, but also causes distortions in the economy.
Rather than some type of compromise between freedom and slavery, which sounds bad enough, the mixed economy makes a more fundamental break with the principles of liberty. In a mixed economy, the citizens no longer have an unalienable right to the fruits of their labor, or property rights, but rather have the privilege of keeping that property that the government does not choose to take. Changing property from a right to a privilege is a monumental change in the principles that a society is founded upon. It crosses the majority of the divide between freedom and slavery. The moral argument against socialism or even a mixed economy is that they both violate property rights: the most important, most basic right that people have.

It is also easy to see why even a mixed economy is not sustainable economically. As it violates those property rights on a regular basis, it is siphoning off the surplus productivity from those producing more than they consume and distributing those savings to those consuming more than they produce. Thus, savings and capital are diminished at first, and eventually destroyed when the incentive to save is eroded. In practical terms, the laborer of today no longer saves for his retirement, partly because he is unable to due to the sizeable portion of his property that is seized to pay the benefits of present beneficiaries, and partly because he knows (or at least believes) that future generations will pay those benefits for him.

One need look no further than the present state of the American economy to see this argument proven out. After decades of growth of socialist programs like Social Security and Medicare, the United States has gone from being the world’s largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor. Its people and its government are mired in debt, and its economy has a negative savings rate. No longer is the American worker the highest paid or most productive in the world. One by one, the United States has lost its dominance in almost every economic sector, no longer producing the majority of goods and services it consumes. While our politicians may try to lead us to believe that economic cycles “just happen,” a sober look at the departure we’ve made away from our founding principles reveal the true reason for our economic decline. The foundation of this departure has been our violation of property rights.

We are now at a crossroads. Socialism, even “diluted” in our mixed economy, has lead us to where it always leads: to the verge of economic collapse. During the next presidential term, the United States is going to face an economic crisis that will startle even the most disinterested and apathetic of its citizens. The question is not so much “what is to be done?” as it is “who will you believe?” Already, politicians and the media are framing the debate on the assumption that it was capitalism and too little regulation over “greedy speculators” that caused our problems. False prophets of freedom, like Lou Dobbs, are masquerading as champions of the people while emphatically calling for more government regulation, and not denouncing wealth redistribution, but merely criticizing the way the loot is split. A new edifice is being built in the capital of the empire of lies.

No matter who gets elected, no matter what policies are made, an economic crisis is coming, and it will be painful. The only way for America to recover from it will be to rebuild its awesome productive capacity that once made it the greatest, wealthiest nation on earth. That cannot be done without rejecting the socialism – even the mixed economy variety – that has ruined her. She must again be an example to the world that liberty and individual rights are the only sustainable economic and political system. It will not be easy for America to choose this path. The voices of liberty have grown few and those advocating socialism have the media, the politicians, and the guns. However, as difficult as it may now seem, we must convince the American people that this calamity was not a failure of capitalism, regardless of what they are told. Economic upheavals spawn revolutions. In Russia and Germany during the early 20th century, those revolutions ended badly. We must educate our neighbors so that we choose a wiser path. Make no mistake; the danger is real. Lies and ignorance in the midst of this crisis can enslave us for generations, but the truth can surely set us free.

Tom Mullen

[1] Samuel Adams The Rights of the Colonists (1772) The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772 Old South Leaflets no. 173 (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1906) 7: 417-428.

Home

>To the People of the United States of America

>To the People of the United States of America,

I am writing today because no one has asked my opinion in any poll. No candidate has sought my vote, and no lobbyist taken up my cause. It seems that of all of the “special interests” in America, mine is forgotten – unworthy of notice by politicians, activists, media commentators, and the press.

It may be because I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat, nor represented by lobbyists for the disabled, senior citizens, minorities, trade unions, nor any other lobby. In fact, I am not a member of any group whatsoever.

I am the individual. Our Constitution was written to protect me from the majority. I am the victim of Democracy, which has overwhelmed the safeguards of the old Republic and replaced the Republic with mob rule. I am raising my voice now, while I am still able to raise it, if for no other reason than to let posterity know that I was still here when the ruins of our Republic are examined.

I have lived my life in a country that proclaims itself to the world to be the “land of the free,” but have watched my freedoms erode. The most basic right I had – ownership of the fruits of my labor – has been taken from me. Now, politicians argue over what portion of my labor will purchase medical care for the poor and elderly, what portion will pay social security, what portion will educate other people’s children, and what paltry sum I will be allowed to keep so that I may go out tomorrow and work another day.

I once lived in a country which recognized my right to do as I pleased, as long as I did not violate the rights of others. Now, mountains of laws and regulations have been passed in the perverse effort to prevent me from having even the opportunity to commit a crime. As a result, I am rendered paralyzed, as there is almost no action that I can take, beyond rising from my bed, that cannot be construed by someone to be a crime or violation.

More of my property is seized to support grand adventures in foreign lands, where my government spreads “freedom” through the crosshairs of its guns. My government’s invasion of countries that pose no military threat to us whatsoever has made me hated throughout the world, merely for being an American, and helped enslave my children to unserviceable debts.
Most ominously, even the legal protections of my person have been revoked in the name of protecting my fellow citizens against “terrorism.”

While the Constitution guarantees me sound money, as only gold and silver shall be legal tender, I am nevertheless forced to use the worthless paper notes of a private banking cartel that decreases their value daily, providing me no safe store of value to save for my future. To aid financial speculators who produce nothing whatsoever, the volume of these notes is increased out of all reason whenever these gamblers and thieves stand to suffer a loss. As a result, the purchasing power of this slave currency is constantly decreased, widening the gap between rich and poor, and destroying the middle class. I am left with no practical means to participate in free trade and civil society.

I give my fellow citizens the benefit of the doubt, and believe that they have merely forgotten what the true nature and purpose of government is. I remind them that government is nothing more than the collective use of force – and that the use of force is never justified except in defense. It is, by definition, a last resort. Government has almost limitless power, but very few rights. It has no right to do anything beyond protecting my life and my freedom.

Government has no right to provide for the needy with monies extorted at gunpoint from its citizens. I will gladly work with my fellow citizens to help those in need, once I have a choice. In the meantime, I demand that my labor cease to be taken from me without my consent.

Government has no right to bring freedom to the oppressed by initiating force. I remind my fellow citizens that all of the tyrants of history justified their conquests under the false guise of “liberation.” I will gladly stand with my countrymen to fight any foreign power that truly threatens us, but I demand that my government immediately cease to invade foreign countries in my name.

Government has no right to “manage the economy.” Trade is only truly trade when it is free – the result of exchanges between people by mutual, voluntary consent. There is no role for government in this whatsoever. I demand that my right to trade freely with my fellow citizens and citizens abroad be respected and no longer subject to inspection or interference.

Government has no right to “prevent crime.” It may only punish activities that are truly criminal, and those are relatively few compared to the ocean of laws and regulations that have been passed. I demand that any law prohibiting an act that does not directly harm another person be repealed, along with any law that prohibits unpopular thoughts or speech. Neither the threat of terrorism, poverty, natural disaster, nor epidemic justifies the surrender of one ounce of liberty. I demand that habeas corpus be restored.

Finally, government has no right to rob me of my property by forcing me to use paper currency whose value is subject to its whim. I demand that gold and silver no longer be taxed as capital gain if it rises in price relative to paper currency.

While I owe my fellow citizens nothing in return for heeding these demands, I nevertheless offer a thousand-fold in return. My fellow citizens are running out of fossil fuel – I will discover a new, renewable energy source. Our planet is growing crowded – I will unlock the secrets of traveling to others. The productive members of our society will soon be outnumbered by those less able or unable to produce any longer – I will feed them all. For it was I – the free individual – that gave you everything you have. It was I that invented the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, and the computer. It was I that devised methods to produce mass amounts of goods, making them affordable and available to everyone. It was I that devised a system of government where the rule of the jungle was replaced by the rule of just laws.

In return for restoring my rights, you will again free my creative power to give you more than you can possibly imagine, and solve problems which you are unable to solve without me. I ask nothing more in return, for it is no more my right to make claims upon my fellow citizens than it is their right to make claims upon me. I hereby waive any supposed “entitlement” to public welfare, medical care, retirement benefits, or any other benefit that requires coercion of my fellow citizens to provide it. In return I demand that my liberty be restored. As I believe that I am the last individual left on earth, I do not believe that my tax money will be missed. However, if there are other individuals besides me that would claim their freedom as well, I invite them to join me, and to them I pledge my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor.

Regards,

A Farmer

Home