October 13, 2015

It’s not labor unions that destroy the economy; it’s the New Deal and its awful progeny

First_United_States_Labor_Day_Parade,_September_5,_1882_in_New_York_CityTwo small minorities on either end of the political spectrum have strong feelings about Labor Day. One side sees the holiday as a celebration of all the victories hard working folks have won in securing their rights against greedy capitalists who would otherwise have them working twenty-three hours a day in sweat shops. The other side sees it as overt Marxism, so dangerous to all that’s good and holy the holiday should be renamed.

The other 95% are just damned glad to have the day off.

That the right wingers are paranoid doesn’t mean no one is out to get them. There is a very real connection between the holiday, the unions that proposed it and Marxism. American Marxists are firm supporters of unions, as were Marx and Engels themselves.

Neither is there any denying the damage unions appear to have done. Wherever labor unions are firmly entrenched, economic hardship proliferates. Outside the politically correct zone, everyone knows unions destroyed Detroit. If you have any doubt, just look at General Motors’ 2006 balance sheet. Either capitalists mysteriously ceased being greedy for the preceding fifty years or something forced them to be overly generous with pay and benefits, resulting in the bizarre preponderance of legacy benefit costs reflected there.

This would seem to be something of a paradox. How can this free association, an expression of the free market itself, be so harmful to our economic well-being?

The answer is labor unions themselves are not the problem. It’s labor union legislation, starting with the infamous “Wagner Act” (National Labor Relations Act of 1935) and continuing with subsequent legislation in the decades thereafter. These laws transformed the employment contract from a voluntary buyer-seller agreement to an involuntary one for one side.

The Wagner Act didn’t protect the right of sellers (employees) to freely associate and agree upon a minimum level of pay and benefits they would accept. They already had that right. The Wagner Act legalized violation of the buyers’ (employers) right to refuse to purchase their services. Just as sellers have a right to make collective bargaining a condition of the sale, buyers have a right to make individual bargaining a condition of their purchase.

In a free market, exchanges are supposed to happen only when both sides voluntarily agree to the price and the terms. If they can’t agree, they just don’t do business together, with each party free to buy or sell the services in question from and to others, respectively.

The Wagner Act overrides this natural law. It says the sellers are free to bargain collectively, but the buyer is not free to refuse. It makes one side of the agreement involuntary. Apart from the moral repugnancy of the idea, it causes huge economic distortions.

For example, it completely reverses the incentives for the sellers. If the buyers were allowed to negotiate freely with union and non-union members, the union would have to find a way to makes its members more productive than non-union workers to justify the higher price they ask for the same services.

Instead, unions in the present scenario have an incentive to make its workers less productive. Since the employer can’t say no, the union benefits from less productivity per worker, which results in a need for more total workers paying union dues. Anyone who’s been a new employee in a union shop will attest to the pressure from other employees to slow down one’s work in order to strengthen the union’s position at the bargaining table.

The right of buyers to buy from someone else or not buy at all is the most fundamental discipline a free market imposes on sellers. It is the only reason sellers seek to improve the quality and lower the price of their products. When this discipline is removed, prices go up and quality goes down. It’s the same phenomenon playing out in health care.

Ultimately, one shouldn’t blame labor unions for the economic misery they seem to spread. They are merely responding to incentives, just as do crony capitalists who benefit from protectionism. Put the blame squarely where it belongs, on the source of most human misery in this advanced age: government.

Enjoy the Labor Day holiday. Cook some hot dogs, crack open some cold ones and thank the hard workers the holiday is meant to honor under its rightful name. And while you’re at it, burn FDR in effigy for screwing everything up.


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

But aren’t right-to-work laws also unjust?

TAMPA, December 13, 2012 ― As expected, the reaction to Monday’s column about Michigan’s right-to-work legislation inspired spirited discussion.

Weeding out both praise and invective that were unresponsive to my argument, there was a dissent that had merit. It was the libertarian argument that right-to-work laws also violate the rights of employers and employees to make a voluntary contract. An employer should be free to require membership in the union and/or payment of dues as a condition of employment.

Like most libertarians, I agree with that argument in principle, but one cannot evaluate right-to-work laws in a vacuum.

Right-to-work laws and the Taft-Hartley Act from which they proceed are wholly a reaction to the Wagner Act. The proponents of Taft-Hartley first tried to get the Wagner Act repealed. When the Supreme Court ruled Wagner constitutional, conservatives passed Taft-Hartley. If the Wagner Act were not already law, Taft-Hartley would be both unnecessary and unjust.

However, in the context of the Wagner act, neither is necessarily true. A brief allegory will illustrate.

Employer Smith sits down at the bargaining table with Union Jones. The two discuss potential terms of an employment contract, but are unable to reach an agreement. Jones wants more than Smith is willing or able to pay. Smith gets up to walk away.

Just then, Luca Brasi walks up and makes Smith “an offer he can’t refuse.” Brasi puts a gun to Smith’s head and invites him to sit back down, assuring him that at the end of the meeting, either his brains or his signature will be on a collective bargaining agreement.

Brasi is the Wagner Act.

Read the rest of the article…

Michigan unions say no right to work

TAMPA, December 10, 2012 – Lansing, Michigan is bracing for an onslaught of protestors following Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s indication that he would sign “Right to Work” legislation currently making its way through the state legislature. President Obama and Harry Reid have both joined Michigan Democrats in denouncing the bill.

As usual, both liberals and conservatives are already demonstrating their skewed perception of reality in weighing in on this debate. President Obama told workers at an engine plant outside Detroit that “what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” as if the law would do any such thing.

However, Harry Reid surpassed all in obtuseness when he called the legislation a “blatant attempt by Michigan Republicans to assault the collective bargaining process and undermine the standard of living it has helped foster.”

Perhaps the senator should ask the residents of Detroit, an entire city laid waste by New Deal union legislation, how they are enjoying the standard of living it has produced.

Libertarians haven’t been able to say this in quite a while, but the conservatives are mostly right on this one, although perhaps for the wrong reasons.

The only troubling sentiment coming from grassroots conservatives is the animosity towards labor unions themselves. Many seem to believe that the mere existence of labor unions causes economic distortions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labor unions themselves are not the problem.

Like virtually all human misery, labor market distortions are caused by the government. Specifically in this case, they are rooted in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (a.k.a. the Wagner Act).

Read the rest of the article…


But I Paid Into It…

Critics on the left have quite correctly pointed out that Tea Party activists who oppose President Obama’s “socialism” are hypocritical in that they do not oppose Social Security for themselves. The most common rebuttal to this criticism is usually something along the lines of Social Security being fundamentally different because the recipients pay into it. However, this argument is no different than arguing for a right to steal your younger neighbor’s car because an older neighbor has stolen yours. Allow me to explain.

Most people are aware Social Security has begun paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes. However, it had run surpluses for decades that most beneficiaries honestly believe is funding the shortfall until the demographic imbalance caused by the baby boom evens out. Since they “paid into it all of their lives,” supporters of Social Security distinguish it from Aid to Dependent Children or other wealth transfer programs. Inherent in this thinking is both factual inaccuracy and flawed logic.

First, even if those surpluses had gone into a “trust fund,” no one disputes Social Security has always been a predominantly “pay-as-you-go” program. In other words, the overwhelming majority of the money collected from payroll taxes went to fund benefits for current beneficiaries. Thus, payroll taxes were taken from one group of people and paid out to another, just like public welfare.

One might argue that the surpluses generated previously meant that at least part of the money being paid to current beneficiaries was their own money, held in trust for their retirement. However, this is also completely untrue. The surpluses have not been held in cash since 1939. Instead, when the program runs a surplus, the government is legally obligated to use the money to purchase U.S. Treasury bonds, which are nothing more than securities documenting that you have loaned the federal government money. So, by law, any surplus collected in payroll taxes for Social Security must be lent to the federal government (which immediately spends it on operating expenses). In return, Treasury Bonds are put into the trust fund.

For those who remember and decry this change in 1939 as a betrayal, remember that the FDR administration had also taken the U.S. off the gold standard (domestically). Had the government continued to merely hold reserves in cash, the reserves would have been outstripped by inflation by the time the benefits were payable to most beneficiaries.

Most people think of the treasury bond arrangement as the government putting their money into a “secure investment” that will pay them interest with very little risk. However, this is logically absurd. Treasury bonds are not “an investment.” An investment is a loan or advance of capital made in the hopes of earning interest from a producer of goods or services. The fundamental question anyone asks before risking their money with a bond issued by a private business is “How are you going to pay me back?”

The answer that would be given by a private sector business would be, “By using the capital you have loaned us, we are going to expand our productive capacity. With the new products we will produce and sell, we will be able to pay back your investment with interest and still make a profit.” Thus, if you purchase a bond issued by a computer manufacturer (i.e. lend it money), then the computer manufacturer is able to repay you with interest out of the new computers it was able to produce with the money it borrowed from you.

However, the federal government does not produce computers. The federal government does not produce anything. So, how does it answer the question, “How will you pay me back?” There is only one answer: “We will tax people in the future to pay back your loan principle and interest.”

Thus, even the so-called “trust fund” does not represent a store of your own money, held in trust for your retirement. 100% of your money was spent the moment it was received by the government. Most went to underwrite the benefits of current beneficiaries. The rest was spent on other government boondoggles and replaced by promises to repay you by taxing other people. Not one dime of current benefits represents a “payback” of one’s own money. Social Security is every bit as “socialist” as Aid to Dependent Children, Medicaid, Medicare, or any other government transfer of wealth. Where do you think it got its name?

There is a bit of irony here that probably also escapes most Americans. While the federal government’s modus operandi for many years now has been to merely pay off the interest on its debt and issue new debt to cover the principal as bonds come due, let’s consider what would happen if they actually started repaying the principal on their bonds.

The longest term bond is a 30-year Treasury note, which means you loan the government the money for 30 years. Suppose that in 1970, you were a 34-year-old, dutifully paying your Social Security taxes. Most of your money went to pay current beneficiaries, but a small portion (your share of the surplus) went into 30-year Treasury notes. In 2010, you are one year from retirement and ask the government, “Where are you going to get the money to pay back the principal and interest on that 30-year Treasury bond?” As bizarre as the answer might seem, the answer would be, “Why, from you, of course.”

However, the most socialist aspect of Social Security is not that it represents a transfer of wealth. It is that the program is mandatory. The only way for the government to accomplish a transfer of wealth from one party to another is to force people to participate. This is why George W. Bush’s proposal to “privatize” Social Security would not have made it any less “socialist.” People would still have been forced to participate; only they would now have the option of handing their money over to W’s tax-subsidized buddies on Wall Street rather than to the federal government. Imagine if he had been successful in implementing this in 2004.

Free market capitalism and socialism truly are opposites, but the fundamental difference is one of rights, not economics. True free market capitalism recognizes every individual’s right to keep the product of his labor and dispose of it as he sees fit. Social Security denies this right. It must be responsibly phased out, without cutting off present beneficiaries, and replaced with nothing. That prospect should scare no one at this point. With a government that is $14 trillion in debt and planning to borrow more every year for the foreseeable future, I would trust the most irresponsible individual I know before the federal government – with his retirement money and mine.

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!


© Thomas Mullen 2011

Michael Moore Wants to End the Fed (He Just Doesn’t Realize It)


“You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

- Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride (1987)

It is ironic that Michael Moore’s latest movie, Capitalism: A Love Story features two appearances by writer and comedic actor Wallace Shawn. There is even a clip of Shawn exclaiming “Inconceivable!” in his hilarious turn as Vezzini in The Princess Bride. However, the most appropriate clip from that movie would have been Inigo Montoya uttering the words quoted in the prologue of this article. Using one of Moore’s staple filmmaking techniques, he could have cut to the clip immediately after one of his own pronouncements about capitalism. For although Moore says the word over and over throughout the movie, it is apparent that it “doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.”

The closest thing to a definition of capitalism that Moore provides to his audience comes early on when he remarks, “Capitalism: a system of giving and taking – mostly taking.” He goes on to show a half dozen or so clips of people extolling capitalism for providing “the freedom to succeed and to fail” or hailing the virtues of competition. However, the common mistake made by both Moore when attacking capitalism and the Republican politicians he depicts defending it is their mutual failure to recognize the central tenet of capitalism: property rights.

True capitalism is based upon one simple principle: that all exchanges of property are made with the voluntary consent of all parties. Private ownership of property and competition – the other two components of capitalism in most traditional definitions – are actually results of this foundational principle. As all governments are institutions of coercion, there is no way for them to acquire property through voluntary exchange. Further, with all exchanges being voluntary, sellers must by definition compete with one another in order to sell their products. So, the foundation of “capitalism” is really the non-aggression principle applied to property. Capitalism requires that no one’s property can be taken from them without their consent.

However, Moore’s film does not examine anything close to that system, which Adam Smith called “a system of natural liberty” (the word “capitalism” was not coined until nearly a century later). There is a good reason for that – it doesn’t exist. What Moore mistakes for capitalism is really the soft fascism that has been increasing in intensity in the United States since the Federal Reserve and income tax were created and property rights were destroyed. He makes the same mistake that Republican voters make when they vote Republican politicians into office. They believe the politicians when they say that they support “free markets,” despite the fact that they go on to govern in exactly the opposite way.

The injustices that Moore depicts in his film are without exception caused by government. Not one can be traced to people voluntarily exchanging their goods and services with one another. What Moore represents as “capitalism” is really what Thomas Dilorenzo described as “Hamilton’s Curse” in his 2008 book of the same name. Without attempting to reduce Dilorenzo’s treatise to a few sentences, he generally describes the economic system whereby the government allies itself with the wealthiest segment of society in order to plunder the wealth of everyone else in pursuit of “national greatness” or “the common good.” The hallmarks of the system are corporate welfare, deficit spending by government, protectionist tariffs, and most importantly, a central bank with a government-granted monopoly on the creation of money.

This system purports to benefit society by encouraging the growth of domestic industry and thereby increasing the power and standing of the nation as a whole, as well as providing employment for the working class. However, like socialism, it must achieve “societal goals” by violating the fundamental principle of capitalism. It must violate the non-aggression principle by taking property away from people without their consent and redistributing that property to others. Some of this is accomplished through taxation. A much greater part is accomplished through monetary inflation.

It is astounding that most people are able to ignore the fact that the central bank is an instrument of theft and thereby completely antagonistic to capitalism. It takes an incredible dearth of healthy skepticism not to question the reason for legal tender laws, which force people to use the central bank’s currency. There is only one reason for these laws: without them no one would choose to accept an un-backed paper currency in exchange for their real goods or services. People are forced to use Federal Reserve Notes so that the government and its corporate allies can use inflation (expansion of the money supply) to transfer wealth from everyone in society to the privileged few who benefit from the transfer. The beneficiaries include corporate defense contractors, large farming corporations, Wall Street banks, and other “pillars of the economy.” It is inflation more than anything else that widens the gap between rich and poor. It is the chief vehicle for what Bastiat described as “the few plunder the many.”

However, Michael Moore does not recognize the right to the fruits of one’s labor and so he is completely blind to the difference between capitalism and the system promoted by Republican politicians (in deed if not in word). He fails to see that every aspect of our financial meltdown was caused by some violation of property rights, representing a departure from capitalism.

The money needed to extend all of those “deceptive mortgages” was created by the Federal Reserve out of thin air, thus diluting the value of all existing U.S. dollars. This was a theft from the holders of those existing dollars. Most of the loans themselves were guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie Mac, which uses the coercive power of government to force taxpayers to put up their money as collateral for people who would either not receive those loans or who would pay a much higher interest rate without it.  Again, this is not capitalist voluntary exchange but instead wealth redistribution and a distortion of the free market. Similarly, the hundreds of billions paid out to defense contractors and other beneficiaries of President Bush’s wars in the Middle East were also funded by inflation, which the Republicans overtly flaunted by cutting taxes while skyrocketing government spending.

Since he fails to recognize that it was violation of property rights that truly caused our economic meltdown, he doesn’t recommend the restoration of property rights as the solution. Moore blindly accepts the traditional “progressive” fallacy that free market participants can only benefit at someone else’s expense, instead of recognizing that people who exchange voluntarily do so to their mutual benefit. As a result, he accepts government’s role as plunderer of property and merely suggests dividing up the loot differently. He promotes the bogus idea that the government can grant rights to people, and suggests that the coercive power of government no longer be used to redistribute to the wealthy, but instead be used to redistribute to everyone else. He objects to a system wherein the few plunder the many, but suggests it be replaced with a system where “everybody plunders everybody.”

Moore asserts that FDR had the answer when he proposed a “Second Bill of Rights,” granting Americans the right to a reasonable wage, health care, a pension, and other entitlements. Again, as the concept of property rights is foreign to him, Moore is able to ignore the fact that granting a right to these things means that those who provide them have no rights. He extols the “justice” of labor unions, but ignores the fact that it was the unions that destroyed the U.S. automakers by claiming exactly these rights. It was actually an alliance between government and these unions – identical in principle to the alliance between government and Wall Street – that turned his beloved Flint into a ghost town. He suggests that we should set these forces loose upon all of society. His ability to ignore reality is, to quote Mr. Shawn, “inconceivable.”

Like all of his movies, Capitalism: A Love Story is very well made. Moore is exceptionally good at what he does, bringing wit, comedic timing, and emotional power to the screen. Also like all of his movies, he identifies real injustices and expresses appropriate outrage at them. However, throughout his distinguished career he has made the classic mistake of misidentifying the cause of the problems he depicts so poignantly on the screen.

He compares the United States to Rome and points to the similarities between our problems and theirs. He correctly identifies half of the cause of Rome’s decline and ours: the government’s unholy alliance with a landed aristocracy that plunders the wealth of the people for redistribution to the privileged few. However, he fails to recognize his solution as the other half of the cause of both Rome’s decline and ours: the rest of society attempting to share in the plunder by means of majority vote (democracy). It was both of these forces acting together which destroyed Rome’s currency and led to her eventual collapse. Like Rome, we are also afflicted with both of these ills.

The only real solution to our predicament is to implement a system that supports Bastiat’s third alternative – “where nobody plunders anybody.” It is only by following this principle that justice can truly prevail. The most significant step in achieving such a system would be to eliminate the Federal Reserve System. Neither the Republican system of plunder for the wealthy nor the Democratic system of plunder for everybody is possible without monetary inflation. There is no way that government could ever achieve either through direct taxation.

I believe that Michael Moore’s intentions are good. At the end of his film, he asks Americans to join him. I have an alternative proposition for him. If he truly wants to see justice restored in America, along with equal opportunity for all Americans to pursue their happiness, he should call off his misguided attack on capitalism and join us to End the Fed.

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!


© Thomas Mullen 2009

>Obama and the Ghost of FDR

>President-elect Barack Obama has not even taken office yet, and already the entire world seems to be celebrating the death of the last vestiges of capitalism. With the Democrats in control of both the executive and legislative branches of government, calls for a “new New Deal” are as commonplace today as the expression “it’s a free country” once was (you don’t seem to hear that much anymore. I wonder why?). It is not as if the “Change” Obama proposes to bring will be that radical. The United States has not practiced free market capitalism since at least before the last Great Depression, despite the ludicrous claims that capitalism is to blame for the next one. However, Obama will have to come up with something original if he is to leave an imprint upon history comparable to that of the original New Dealer. Not only did FDR turn the Hoover-created depression into the ten-year Great Depression, he has now actually reached from beyond the grave to take down the world’s largest automaker. Even apocryphal stories of the holy Obama walking on water pale in comparison to that.

It is nothing less than astounding that GM can fail so spectacularly as a direct consequence of the policies of the first FDR, while the entire world not only ignores the fact that the New Deal caused it, but actually demands another New Deal as the solution. Not even O. Henry gave us irony like this.

There is actually very little debate about what has caused the destruction of the American auto industry. Occasionally, a weak attempt is made to imply that the Big Three should not have concentrated on trucks and SUV’s while foreign competitors were making more energy-efficient vehicles. However, it is very easily demonstrated that the U.S. automakers had no choice but to concentrate on vehicles that had the necessary margins to cover their huge labor costs, both for current and retired workers. Decades of concessions to powerful labor unions have driven their costs so high that they are simply unable to make an automobile that competes with foreign imports.

There are those that argue that “unregulated capitalism” caused American manufacturing jobs to migrate overseas, where manufacturing labor was cheaper. However, this fallacy refutes itself. If “market forces” truly were in play, how did U.S. labor costs get so high? Did “greedy capitalists” simply abandon their profit ambitions and decide to pay their employees more than they could afford to? Surely, this would have required not merely irresponsibility but utter foolishness from the same crowd that MADE GM the largest automaker in the world. What caused this decades-long failure of basic business sense?

Of course, everyone knows the answers to these questions, but want to pretend that they don’t. The reason that manufacturers, especially the automakers, continually promised labor unions more than they could afford to pay was because government FORCED them to do so. It really is that simple. Under the euphemism “collective bargaining,” the government made it illegal for a manufacturer to refuse a demand from a union. An illusion of choice was sustained by merely requiring the employer to “make a reasonable counter-offer,” but the courts were there to see that “reasonable” meant that if the union asked for the moon and the stars, the employer would have to at least agree to a few planets. In the end, the employer could not choose freely as far as what to pay their employees or what benefits to offer. Without free choices, market forces are suspended.

To make this as plain as it can possibly made, this game is played like this: The union demands compensation beyond what the business model will support. The employer replies that they are unable to agree if they wish to stay in business. The government says, “Just give it to them or we’ll shoot.” Another “victory for the workers,” is won and the inevitable end draws nearer.

The entire union concession/cost escalation dynamic goes back to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and other New Deal legislation. It was these fundamental departures from capitalism that sowed the seeds of the eventual destruction of American manufacturing. What is honestly horrifying is that Americans can observe this government coercion of industry and seriously refer to it as “unregulated capitalism,” or to the series of concessions made by manufacturers at gunpoint as “market forces.” We are truly through the looking glass where a bull is stumbling through the china shop and the storekeeper is reprimanding the broken glass.

While it might seem unfair to blame a man that has been dead for over six decades for the failure of a company in 2008, one must consider the dominance that America enjoyed in the manufacturing sector to begin with. At one time, American manufacturers flooded the world with high-quality, low-cost goods, while still paying wages many times higher than their competitors overseas. There was no sector where America was more dominant than automobile manufacturing, an industry that America literally invented. It would not be brought to bankruptcy overnight. Year after year, decade after decade, the companies grew a little less profitable as government forced them to raise their labor costs IN OPPOSITION to market forces. It was not until decades later that those costs rose beyond the point where the companies could remain competitive.

However, the length of time it took for the disease to run its course does not change the nature of the virus that caused it. Indeed, the same reasoning could be applied not only to the entire manufacturing sector, but to other sectors of the American economy as well. The collapse we are experiencing is the result of an entire economy that has been rendered profoundly unproductive by systemic problems that all relate to government intervention into markets. We have still not found a cure for cancer or the New Deal. To be fair, the poisons we use to try to kill cancer before the they kill the patient are far less deadly and have a much higher rate of success than the medicine we are about to apply to our current economic crisis. The survival rates for many cancers continually improve. The survival rate for American businesses might not be significant enough to measure.

So, Obama will have to be creative to achieve staying power comparable to FDR’s. While Obama’s stated economic policies are terribly destructive, there is not much left of the American productive structure to destroy. More than likely, his interventionist and redistributive policies will merely apply the coup de grace to an economy that at this point merely retains the superficial façade of its former capitalist glory. In order to truly emerge from the shadow of the Ghost of FDR, Obama will have to find a completely new, original way to rend the fabric of our once-free society. One can only dread what that might be.


>Our Last Emperor

>Within hours of his historic victory, the official story of Barack Obama’s presidency began to be written by the corporate media machine. The general consensus of all of the coverage is that Obama is inheriting huge problems in the economy and foreign policy of the United States, and that he alone will have to solve them. Associated Press writer Jennifer Loven’s article of this morning, carried the headline, “Great Expectations: Obama will have to deliver.” The New York Times featured an article called “For Obama, A Towering Economic To Do List.” Perhaps most ominously, an article from Bloomberg contained this passage,

“The Democratic president-elect has much more on his agenda, amounting to what may be the broadest overhaul of the U.S. economy since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Beyond job creation and big investments in public works, Obama intends to shift the tax burden back toward the wealthy, roll back a quarter-century of deregulation, extend health-care coverage to all Americans and reassess the U.S. government’s pursuit of free- trade deals.”

Fate has not been kind to Barack Obama. His task is not monumentally difficult – it is impossible. An entire nation and, to some extent, an entire world, is looking to this relatively young man to bring back to life an American Empire that is beyond resuscitation. We are presently witnessing the spectacular failure of an ideology that has dominated the world for the past century. Like his predecessor, Obama brings terribly bad (although superficially different) ideas to the White House. Like his predecessor, Obama will make a bad situation a lot worse, albeit with different tools out of the same toolbox. However, the end of the Empire that will occur on his watch is inescapable, no matter who occupies the White House. The Empire is ending because, like all empires, it is unsustainable.

Make no mistake, Obama’s policies will make things much worse. For an economy that has never really recovered from the original New Deal, the policies described in the Bloomberg passage alone should be enough to put America’s “mixed economy” out of its misery. Following the example of past American emperors, particularly from the (in past decades) more socialist Democratic party, Obama may do damage in one term that another president might take two to do. Nevertheless, this collapse is not going to be remotely his fault, although he may take much of the blame.

As I’ve written here, we are experiencing the deflation of the mother of all bubbles, the socialism bubble. America’s problems are not the result of the mistakes of specific leaders or of the failures of specific policies. America’s problems are systemic. They are the result of building the edifice of our society and economy around the idea of central planning and an all-powerful federal government. The media ludicrously portrays the welfare state, the worldwide military force, the central economic planning via the Federal Reserve and alphabet soup regulatory agencies, etc. as failing because they have been poorly managed. Sometimes they have. The Bush Administration jumps to mind. However, it is crucial to realize that there is no way to successfully manage them. They are part and parcel of an ideology that is doomed to fail regardless of the skill of its execution. When America has prospered in past decades, it has been in spite of these institutions, not because they have been managed well. Until Americans realize this, the “change” they seek will never come.

The real tragedy is that neither the majority of Americans nor Obama himself understand this. So, all look to Obama to take some action, although most really can’t say what it is. Each time I hear Obama or one of his followers dutifully mouth his one word slogan, “Change,” I am haunted by Charlotte Iserbyt’s insightful question/retort, “From what, to what?” I have occasionally asked an Obama supporter this question. Despite long, uncomfortable silences on each occasion, I have yet to hear a reply. They do not know what they mean. They just want government to make their lives better. They do not realize that government, by its very nature, does not have the power to do so.

Not long ago, I stumbled upon Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto while channel surfing just before going to sleep. It is not a movie for the faint of heart. It depicts life at the end of the Mayan empire, complete with human sacrifice in state-of-the-art digital clarity. I was struck by the words of the sacrificer to the maniacally cheering crowd. He mentions a short list of afflictions of the people – poor crops, disease, drought – and then goes on to say,

“They say this strife has made us weak. That we have become empty. They say that we rot. I say we are strong. Great people of the banner of the sun, I say we are strong. We are a people of destiny. Destined to be the masters of time. Destined to be nearest to the gods…”

He then goes on to brutally murder two captives in order to appease the gods and renew the land.

On Tuesday night, I was reminded of this scene while watching Barack Obama’s victory speech in Chicago. The similarities were more striking than one might at first think. As in the film, tens of thousands were gathered to implore their government to save them. As in the film, Senator Obama reviewed the list of problems afflicting his people (two wars, the financial crisis, healthcare costs, etc.). As in the film, President-elect Obama’s proposed solutions will do nothing to relieve the suffering of his people. As in the film, the tens of thousands gathered erupted into wild applause and adulation at each meaningless pronouncement. I am not sure what I found more horrifying: the sight of thousands of people cheering a brutal murder, or the sight of the citizens of the so-called “land of the free” worshipping their government. Each is an outward indication of systemic societal flaws within.

Perhaps President Obama’s legacy will find some luck. The great majority of Americans still believe that FDR resolved the Great Depression, when in fact he caused it. Perhaps Obama will get some credit for the eventual recovery in America, even though it will happen in spite of his policies rather than because of them. Unfortunately for him, it would be better if Americans finally saw their present form of government clearly for what it is.

After the end of the Empire, there will still be a United States of America, just as there is still an Italy, France, Spain, and England. However, this moment in American history is different. In the past, the productivity of the American economy has eventually been able to overcome the disastrous policies of an FDR or an LBJ. That is no longer the case. The accumulated effects of government intervention and government-created systemic problems that have been built into the American economy have finally destroyed that productivity. The parasite has killed the host. This crisis is going to force some substantive change, whether for better or for worse.

The real question confronting America is what will come next. None of the empires of the past were succeeded by freer societies for their people. Will America take a different path? No nation in history has achieved the liberty of its people that the United States did during its freest, most prosperous period. It is possible that this spirit of liberty is not completely extinct. Following the reign of this our last emperor, we will have the opportunity to truly remake the United States. Instead of repeating the mistakes of history, we can make history once again. After the fall of our empire, we will have the opportunity to restore our republic and reclaim our freedom. That is the real change that we need.


>The Bursting of the Socialism Bubble

>In the midst of what “debate” there has been about the eventual bailout of the financial sector, it is clear that even most of those opposed to the bailout do not understand what is happening. The unfortunate aspect of some of the commentary is that there is a faction arguing that without the bailout, the stock market will not crash. Thus, the debate is shifted to “which course of action can best protect stock market values?” They cannot be protected. The government argues that the credit squeeze could result in unemployment, while the other side argues that unemployment will not necessarily result if the bailout is not passed. Another position blames the crisis on too little regulation. All of these positions are wrong. There will be a painful adjustment in the stock market and massive unemployment, whether the government bails out the financials or not. The only question is how long it will last. That is reality when any bubble deflates.

The most unfortunate result of all of this misunderstanding would be for the American people to reverse their position and support the bailout just because there are severe market losses if it does not pass. Their initial instinct was correct, whether for the right reasons or not. The losses that these companies suffered due to massive malinvestment are real, and that must eventually be reflected in the value of their stocks.

Similarly, it will be unfortunate if the American people are convinced that more regulation is needed to prevent this from happening again. More regulation will not prevent a problem that was in part caused by too much regulation.

We have heard about the “tech bubble,” the “housing bubble,” and even the “dollar bubble.” All of these are real. The dollar bubble is about to burst, with global catastrophic consequences, but even that is not the biggest bubble that is out there. The biggest bubble, which has been building literally for the past century, is what I will call “the socialism bubble.”

What is the socialism bubble? Let’s define “bubble” first. The term “bubble” is used in economics to describe a large misallocation of resources (malinvestment). Anyone with even a passing familiarity with economics knows the basics: the central bank artificially infuses money and credit into the economy, that money flows toward projects that appear to be profitable under the artificially created conditions, but aren’t, and those projects ultimately fail, causing the bursting of the bubble. The worst part of the bursting of a bubble is that the greatest misallocation of resources has been human resources, and those people now have to find new jobs. They have to be reemployed elsewhere, in more profitable ventures, just like the capital goods that were misallocated to the projects. That is why unemployment accompanies recessions.

Like any other bubble, the socialism bubble is also a misallocation of resources. It has just taken longer to form and is much huger in scope. The principles behind it are the same, however. It represents government intervening into the economy to create artificial conditions that misallocate resources. Under these artificial conditions, the entire economy appears to be profitable, but isn’t. When the inevitable bubble bursts, all of the resources, including human resources, that were misallocated, become unemployed. We are about to experience the massive correction following this socialism bubble.

How did it happen? One must look back to before it started to understand it completely. It started at the turn of the last century. The United States of the 19th century had the closest thing to laissez faire capitalism ever achieved in history, arguably followed next by Great Britain. The defining principle of laissez faire capitalism is VOLUNTARY EXCHANGE. With everyone acting in their rational self interest, the minds of all participants were leveraged by the system to consistently produce optimal results.

In the laissez faire marketplace of the 19th century, wages generally declined over time. A pitiable lack of understanding of economics caused social reformers to condemn the free market for this.[1] They ignored the fact that the general price level fell faster than wages, making workers richer in real terms. They attempted to improve on the results that laissez faire capitalism had produced with government policy.

However, there is only one alternative to voluntary exchange: INVOLUNTARY EXCHANGE. Government economic policies FORCE economic agents to make choices that they otherwise would not make. No matter how one tries to euphemize socialism, that is what it is. By attacking voluntary exchange, socialism attacks the mechanism that creates wealth. That is the true root of the problem.

One way in which this manifests itself is in the cost of production. Government cannot come to a company that makes automobiles and force them to pay their employees more, provide them healthcare or pensions, pile one regulation on top of the next in terms of how the company operates its business, and then expect the company’s cost of making that automobile not to rise. As the cost of production rises, the company must find a way to keep the cost of producing their product below the market retail price. They might decide to manufacture SUV’s, which have larger margins, even though a spike in gasoline prices could put them out of business. See General Motors. The truth is that none of the American auto manufacturers are able to produce an automobile that is competitive in the market. Government will come up with a host of villains to blame for this, but look at the balance sheets of the Big Three and you will see why they are not viable. Concessions to labor unions (mandated by government) have made it too expensive for them to operate.

Similar government intervention is behind virtually all of America’s loss of manufacturing infrastructure. It is simply not economically viable to manufacture anything in the United States anymore. This is not a natural result of free markets. As previously noted, wages and other costs of production fell under the laissez faire system. Falling prices are a natural result of economic growth and innovation. Only the artificial conditions created by government intervention – the use of force to coerce economic agents – have made it more expensive to make things in America.

The cost of production is not the only pressure that socialism has put on the American economy. The welfare programs currently consume 11% of GDP. Keynesians would say that this is ok, because the recipients spend that money and increase demand. Hopefully, the coming calamity will discredit this economic school of charlatans once and for all. Wealth is created by production, not consumption. This redistribution destroys voluntary savings and ultimately capital. It also eliminates the other conditions that accompany a period of voluntary savings that facilitate natural expansion of the productive structure.

In any case, increasing socialism has put artificial pressures on the American economy for almost a century, and those pressures have accumulated to make America profoundly less productive. Like the communist countries, we have lived in a dream world in which government could use coercion to change economic reality. We have pretended that a business venture can spend more than it takes in and continue to survive. For a time, the free market aspects of America’s “mixed economy” allowed her to overcome these negative pressures, but that time has passed. Economic reality is about to assert itself in devastating fashion.

For at least two decades now, America has been producing far less than she consumes. All things being equal, this would not have gone on for long. However, all things have not been equal. The United States has a central bank, and the privilege of printing the world’s reserve currency. This is why the socialism bubble has been become so enormous.

Instead of a drop in consumption and a rise in unemployment[2] as its manufacturing sector migrated overseas, America went right on consuming, and those employees found new jobs in the “service economy.” With the Federal Reserve providing an unlimited supply of fiat currency, and with the ability to ultimately export that inflation overseas by importing foreign goods in exchange for U.S. dollars, America has been able to maintain the same standard of living as it enjoyed in its productive days. As long as foreigners accepted U.S. dollars, the dream world could persist. The bubble continued to inflate.

The ominous part of this is that today a large percentage of the American labor force is now misallocated by this bubble. There are tens of millions of American workers that are employed in ventures that will cease to exist once the socialism bubble bursts. We have seen the beginning of this with the failures of large retailers and restaurant chains, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Worse yet, unlike previous recessions, there are no manufacturing jobs for these displaced workers to redeploy to. The productive structure must be rebuilt, and that doesn’t happen overnight.

Therefore, Americans must realize that a stock market crash[3] and mass unemployment are inevitable, whether government intervenes or not. The only question now is how long those undesirable conditions will last. There is no “solution,” government or otherwise, that will allow us to avoid this correction. If the government does not intervene, the stock markets will crash faster and the layoffs will begin sooner, but the total period of adjustment will be far shorter. If the government intervenes, no matter how they do it (including by allowing the Federal Reserve to massively inflate the currency), the adjustment period will be stretched out, with continued new malinvestment even as liquidation of current malinvestment occurs. That was the story of the Great Depression.

The only course of action that can speed up the recovery is a return to the laissez faire capitalism that made America great in the first place. This would include eliminating unnecessary regulation, abolishing the central bank and restoring sound money, eliminating minimum wages and other artificial price controls, capping and eventually phasing out the entitlement programs, eliminating other massive government spending like military welfare for other countries and unnecessary war, and restoring protections of property rights. In other words, Freedom. Don’t you think it’s time we tried it again?

[1] The lack of understanding of “real wages” was certainly not the only misconception of the social reformers, but it was a major misconception and representative of others.
[2] The European mixed economies have already experienced this adjustment, debased their currencies, regrouped under the European Union and an new currency, and are presently pursuing the same failed ideology to destroy this new economy as well.
[3] It is conceivable that the Federal Reserve could inflate the currency so much that the stock market remains at $11,000. However, if $11,000 only buys 10 loaves of bread at that point, it would still represent the same devaluation as a crash.