September 19, 2018

Society is in every state a blessing, but government…

DENVER, CO - JUNE 16: The TSA security lines in the main terminal are crowded with vacation travelers on June 16, 2013, in Denver, Colorado. Located 25 miles from downtown, Denver International Airport is the largest airport in the United States. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

DENVER, CO – JUNE 16: The TSA security lines in the main terminal are crowded with vacation travelers on June 16, 2013, in Denver, Colorado. Located 25 miles from downtown, Denver International Airport is the largest airport in the United States. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

This thing we call “society,” which Thomas Paine correctly observed is separate and distinct from government, is basically an economic arrangement. The basis of and primary reason for society is people exchanging their various goods and services with each other.

I wonder how many hundreds or thousands of years more it will take for people to realize what should be blatantly obvious: that every set of exchanges in which government is heavily involved, by either subsidizing, regulating (aka “protecting established firms from new competition”), or downright monopolizing it, is painful. All these sectors (education, health care, air travel, etc) share the same characteristics: poor service, no accountability, high prices, incredibly outdated, bureaucratic procedures (paper forms, long lines, etc), and lack of choices or options, just to name a few.

Conversely, every industry in which government has low or zero involvement has precisely the opposite characteristics: constantly lower prices, better and always improving service, absolute accountability (you go to a competitor if you’re not happy), cutting edge technology (phone apps, automated texts, etc) and constantly improving ease of use and convenience.

Anyone not completely blinded by their emotions (mostly envy) can see glaringly obvious cause/effect relationships that lead inevitably to one conclusion:

All advancement in human happiness results from markets and other voluntary cooperation and virtually all human misery is rooted in government.

One would think a light bulb would go on sooner or later for most people and government would be banished from most or all human interaction.

Instead, it’s “Thank you sir, may I have another!” ad infinitum.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

 

Government Solutions Are Anti-Intellectual

One of the first things that children are taught is that might does not make right. When a fight breaks out among children, their parents tell them that the person who threw the first punch was wrong. Not only was the aggressor wrong, but he was acting unintelligently. It is the one who has run out of ideas that resorts to the use of force. The bully is the dummy, while the child who seeks to resolve disputes through conversation and agreement is the intelligent one.

Most adults continue to recognize this fundamental law of nature, at least most of the time. An adult who resorts to initiating violence to solve disputes is recognized as childish and unintelligent – except when it comes to public policy.

Somehow, we have forgotten that all government action represents the use of force. This is obvious when the government is utilizing its military during wartime, but it is no less true when the government provides healthcare, education, or regulates business activity. Regardless of what problem the government is attempting to solve, it is applying the use of force in order to solve it.

When the government runs a health care program, those who must pay for it are forced to pay. When the government guarantees loans for education, taxpayers are forced to pay when those loans default. Even the most minor laws are backed up by the threat of force. If anyone doubts this, he should neglect to pay a traffic ticket and see what happens.

America was founded upon the principle that government action was only justified when one individual or group had committed aggression against another. As Thomas Jefferson put it,

“Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

How far we have drifted from this basic understanding of the natural law. Today, Americans not only look to government to address every aspect of life that they find displeasing, but they hold up those who advocate this use of brute force as the intellectuals and those who argue that most issues should be addressed through consensual agreement as unsophisticated or unintelligent. While Jefferson said that governments are instituted solely to secure our rights, we now have a government that violates them on a massive and systemic scale.

Instead of trying to understand elaborate theories on how government intervention into our lives is good for us, we should remember what we learned when we were five years old. Only dummies resort to the use of force.

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

Home
© Thomas Mullen 2011

Hooray for Hollywood?

Libertarians generally cringe at most of what comes out of Hollywood and for good reason. The consistent message from its movies and movie stars is that private property and free enterprise are the scourge of society, that profits are made by exploiting the poor and working classes, and that private industry is the enemy of nature that will eventually destroy the earth.

Given this consistent anti-freedom message, it would be hard to blame anyone for a reflexive roll of the eyes upon hearing that Kevin Costner has come forward regarding the BP oil spill. However, this real-life story has a surprising twist. Costner is not calling for some tax-funded government boondoggle. Nor is he taking the opportunity to lecture the masses about their responsibility to sacrifice their lives and property to save the earth or why they should feel guilty for polluting it merely by being alive. Instead, Costner has provided a solution, born out of his entrepreneurial interest in a new technology, that may be effective in cleaning up the oily gulf.

According to an article in the LA Times, Costner and a business partner acquired Ocean Therapy Industries after the Exxon Valdez oil spill and “has spent 15 years and $24 million of his own money on this technology.” The technology had little commercial potential until the Deepwater Horizons accident, which may also qualify Costner as – gasp – a speculator.

The article goes on to say that, “The machines essentially operate like big, floating vacuum cleaners, which suck up oily water and spin it around at high speed. On one side, it spits out pure oil, which can be recovered. The other side spits out 99% pure water.” Costner and his partner hope to sell the reclaimed oil and donate most of the profits to local parishes which have suffered because of the spill. Presumably, the revenues for selling the machines themselves will constitute a handsome return on investment for Costner and his partner.

Whatever Costner’s political views may be, his actions speak louder than words. He is demonstrating yet again that every innovation that has improved the quality of human life has been the result of entrepreneurs taking risks in the hope of profits. While President Obama is making speeches and looking for asses to kick, private enterprise has stepped forward with a solution that will benefit all parties involved. Like all exchanges in a free market, the customer benefits from a new product that it needs or wants, the entrepreneur is enriched for risking his own money and devoting his own labor and time, and all of humanity benefits from the existence of new technology. There are no “losers” in a voluntary exchange of property.

In all fairness, this technology was originally developed by the U.S. government. However, it took the vision, commitment, and risk tolerance of a private investor to transform the technology into something useful and make it available when the time was right. This is also not without precedent. In the 1980’s, entrepreneur’s saw opportunity in a little-known technology called ARPANET, the result of a partnership between MIT and the Department of Defense. They decided to risk their own money developing this technology into something that would actually be useful to everyday people. They created products and services that billions now benefit from and the entrepreneurs were enriched in the process. Today, we call that technology the Internet.

Hopefully, Costner’s fellow actors, producers, and directors will not vilify Costner for “making money on this environmental tragedy.” I recommend that they look at it that Costner is “making the big, bad oil company pay” for the damage it has done. However, no amount of spin can change the facts. This solution was provided by a private entrepreneur who took a risk in the hope of profits. As far as this crisis is concerned, the score is Market 1, Government 0.

Libertarians don’t get to say this very often, so let me be the first: Hooray for Hollywood! Oh, and Kevin, good luck with your venture. I hope you make a million bucks.

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

Home

© Thomas Mullen 2010

>The Government Bubble Heads for a Blow-Off Top

>I have a friend that tends to express his ideas about everything in the jargon of a securities trader. Of course, this is probably because he has been a very successful trader, both in bull and bear markets, for many years. “Every trend in history, even liberty, can be charted like a stock,” he has often observed. I tend to agree.

As any trader will tell you, bull markets do not go straight up and bear markets do not go straight down. Rather, they tend to meander in the direction that they are headed. During a long-term bull market, a trend will have major pull-backs and long periods of consolidation. It is the experienced trader that knows how to “buy low and sell high,” taking advantage of the back and forth action of a stock or a sector on its journey. However, even wiser is the investor that can spot the trend at the beginning and keep buying lows without having to attempt to time the market and sell at all. The legendary Jim Rogers has often said that he is “the world’s worst short-term trader.” He would rather buy something that he can own forever than buy with the intention of having to sell.

Gold has been the most spectacular bull market over the past decade. Like all trends, it had periods of dramatic rise, followed by sharp pullbacks that gave back a portion of the gains, and then long periods of consolidation. Once a consolidation was over, another dramatic rise in price followed. The first run began at the beginning of the decade, with gold selling under $300 per ounce. It ran up to over $700 per ounce in 2006 before pulling back sharply under $600. The price then consolidated there for an entire year before the next leg up began. That second leg ran all of the way over $1,000 per ounce before pulling back to the low $700’s. Again, there was a long consolidation before this latest run, which will take gold we know not where.

All of the movements in the price have explainable reasons. When the fundamentals are stronger than the actual price of the security or commodity, investors begin buying. Once the price starts to move up, traders begin wading in to make profits on the movement of the price, both up and down. At any given time, there are those who are long and those who are short. Contrary to the nonsense you hear from government officials and their kept economists, short sellers play a vital role in keeping the market healthy. When a stock, commodity, or sector beings to fall in price, short sellers help stabilize that price because they have to buy the stock that they sold short to cover their short sales.

You will often hear the wisest of investors say that a trend is about to reverse when there is no longer any disagreement about it. When everyone is positive on a stock or a bull market, it is about to go down. When everyone is negative, it is about to make a run up. When all of society agreed that the NASDAQ would never go down – when every conversation in every coffee shop, supermarket, or dinner party revolved around the wonderful opportunities in technology stocks, wise investors knew it was time to get out.

Of course, this is not some sort of market magic or voodoo. It is simple cause and effect. When there are few sellers in a market and many buyers, the price is going to be inflated far beyond its value. From an opposite standpoint, when short sellers are forced out of the market in a “short squeeze,” there is now nothing to stop the price from falling precipitously once it starts to fall. With no short sellers covering their shorts, the price falls like a stone. Thus, at the end of long bull market, a bubble usually develops, characterized by a final, parabolic “blow off top,” followed by an equally dramatic drop in price.

The past 100 years has been a bull market for government. While the seeds of the run were sown in the mid-19th century, the bull market in government really began at the turn of the 20th century. The first signs of the bull could be spotted as early as the (Teddy) Roosevelt administration, but the real advances came under Woodrow Wilson. The income tax, the Federal Reserve, and the 17th Amendment were advances in government that made gold’s move from $275 to $700 look tame.

There was then a period of consolidation during the so-called Roaring Twenties. It was not so much a pull-back of government as a slow-down in the pace of its growth. Under three Republican presidents, the government bull market consolidated as Americans convinced themselves that they had restored a free market (because the Republicans said they did, despite their actual support of big government fundamentals).

The next big move came during the Great Depression. While the stock market and the real economy went south, government went on another tear as FDR fully instituted the modern welfare state, the fascist regulatory structure, and took America to war. After 16 years of absolute misery, even the most enthusiastic government bull must have thought it was time for a pullback. It was brief, but it came.

Americans again elected a Republican president in the 1950’s and convinced themselves that they had restored the American system and rejected the big government philosophy of FDR and his liberals. However, this, too, was only another consolidation. In actuality, it was Eisenhower that paved the way for LBJ’s Great Society by creating the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services). The 1950’s are fondly remembered as a period of (mostly) peace and prosperity for America. It was only another consolidation period for government’s century-long bull run.

The next great move came during the 1960’s, when LBJ again lead a tremendous run up for government. Medicare and Medicaid, the other two entitlement monsters that will eventually combine with Social Security to bankrupt the United States, were born during this fabulous period for big government. The move ran right through a two-term Republican presidency (counting Ford’s mop-up after Nixon’s resignation) and into the Carter administration.

Most bull markets have two legs. Some have three, but usually no more than that. It seemed like that axiom would hold true for government as Ronald Reagan gave his first inaugural address. “In this crisis,” he told us, “government is not the solution to our problems – government is the problem.” It was the greatest inaugural speech of the 20th century. The government bull market was over. Or so we thought.

We now know that government didn’t get smaller during the Reagan years, but much bigger. However, there was at least a feeling of negativity about government during the Reagan-Bush years that even forced Bill Clinton to pass himself off as a free-market friendly centrist. It was another consolidation period, with a seemingly impossible fourth leg to follow.

We are in the midst of that fourth leg now, as government makes a more precipitous run up than at any time in history. In a few short years, the government will have nationalized the banking, auto, and health care industries. There are no more government bears to be found anywhere, either among Republican or Democratic politicians or (let’s face it) among 99% of the citizenry. Outside of a tiny constituency of libertarians, paleo-conservatives, and anarchists, there are absolutely no non-believers in government left. The rise is accelerating too fast for any protest or community organizing to stop. It’s a short squeeze as the government bull stampedes.

While this might be a terrifying period for anyone remotely interested in living his own life, there is much reason to be hopeful. As most bull markets eventually do, government is experiencing a blow-off top. The curve has bent straight up, with nary a short to be found in any political party or in any bowling alley or church social. Americans have convinced themselves that government either “should” or “must” do something about absolutely everything. We should expect the run to pick up speed, as government invades every aspect of our lives. Never before – not even in the most barbarous ages – has government made such enormous claims upon the life, liberty, or property of its subjects. Medieval serfs were taxed less. Ancient slaves were freer. Not even the brutal Romans killed with such efficiency and on such a scale.

For all of these reasons, it is about to end. With almost uncontested faith in government, its role has expanded so far beyond what it is actually able to deliver that soon we will see a fall that will make the real estate meltdown look like a mild pullback. Having rode the last leg of the move and squeezed out the last of the shorts, government is about to remind everyone that it not only should not be providing what it is attempting to provide, but that it cannot provide it.

At the moment that the whole world has accepted that government will centrally plan all of the economy, take care of its citizens from cradle to grave, and rule a worldwide military empire –all with money that comes from nowhere – at that very moment the age of government will end. The end is going to come fast, too, just like the end of the bull markets in technology stocks and real estate. Ben Bernanke will still be telling government bulls that there is nothing to worry about long past the moment when his time is up. That’s how fast it’s going to be.  As in any market, the moment when every bear is gone is the moment that the bull run is over.

This will not be a pleasant experience. No correction ever is. Fortunes will be lost (albeit mostly fortunes dishonestly made), but innocent people will be hurt, too. All of society will come to the realization that government really can’t provide anything, beyond the brute force that is only justified in self defense. It may take a generation to repair the damage. It’s going to be rough.

However, we should remember one thing. When a bubble deflates, the capital that is not destroyed seeks another refuge. When the NASDAQ melted down and the U.S. dollar began to implode, the smart money fled to gold. It will be no different during the bursting of the government bubble. With a precipitous fall in government, there is an equally dramatic rise in its opposite – liberty.

Americans will have to forego the ill-gotten gains provided by government and do with less while they rebuild. That is unavoidable. While the NASDAQ bubble actually started on a real foundation, the fundamentals of the government bubble were never real. It was all an illusion and it is five minutes from ending.

It’s going to be great.

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

Home

© Thomas Mullen 2010

Make Obama Watch Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters_coverIt’s now clear neither economics nor historical will prevent our government from embarking on another expensive, disastrous program. While debate on government destruction of the health care industry continues in the Senate, President Obama prepares to make a trip to Copenhagen. There, he and other elite “experts” will cook up a new assault on free enterprise – under the tired pretense of “saving the environment.” Since intellectual, scholarly attempts to convince our rulers of the error of their ways have failed, I humbly suggest a simpler solution: make President Obama and the U.S. Senate watch the 80’s classic, Ghostbusters. Everything they need to know about government’s role in the environment is there. It is presented simply enough that even a career politician can understand it.

The Ghostbusters story begins with three university professors who decide to try their hand in the private sector. They start a going concern with their own money to investigate paranormal activity. They face hard times early on, spending “the last of the petty cash” on Chinese food. They have a dearth of customers and face the same fate as the majority of new businesses in their first year: bankruptcy. There is no suggestion the government will bail them out. The market has seemingly determined there was not sufficient need for their services and they will have to figure out some other product to offer in order to make a living.

At that moment, a disturbance occurs in a local hotel and their first paying customer places an order. The Ghostbusters successfully capture the offending spirit and collect their fee. The incident results in some publicity for the young firm and business booms. Soon, the Ghostbusters are running their own commercials and have more business than they can handle. They bring on a fourth Ghostbuster to keep up with the demand.

So far, the story has been a happy one for all parties concerned. The Ghostbusters have achieved success and have become enriched. Why? They have earned their money by making New York City safer (more “ghost-free”) and have created jobs in the process. Most importantly, all of this has occurred through private, voluntary exchange. Customers pay their fees happily because the Ghostbusters offer them a service they deem worthy of the price.

But a story without a major conflict is no story at all. Ghostbusters is a superior story in that it correctly recognizes the source of all human conflict: government. Instead of the rather mundane epilogue the story would have had at this point, where competing firms enter the ghostbusting market, prices fall, and soon all of society can afford to have a paranormal housecleaning, the government rears its ugly head. A representative of the EPA knocks on the Ghostbusters’ door. What happens next couldn’t be more analogous to the real world.

The EPA agent Walter Peck is played to perfection by vastly underrated William Atherton. What is abundantly clear from his limited time onscreen is that, as a low-level federal agent, his primary motivation is not protecting the environment, but rather lording it over any individual or business that fails to immediately submit to his absolute authority. Under the pretense of protecting the environment, he attacks a private enterprise that has harmed no one, has helped the community, and has created jobs.

Having obtained legal authority to invade the Ghostbusters’ facility, despite the lack of evidence of any crime, Peck discovers what he deems to be a threat to the environment in the Ghostbusters’ ghost storage equipment. Of course, sophisticated equipment that could pose a threat to the environment is ubiquitous in a developed, industrial nation. But thus far in the story, the Ghostbusters have managed their equipment safely and responsibly. They have done so both out of respect for their own safety and the safety of others and because their livelihood would be jeopardized if the ghosts they had captured were to escape and return to re-haunt the premises of their customers.

Despite pleas from the Ghostbusters, the EPA agent shuts off their ghost storage machine and chaos ensues. Remember that up until this point, no environmental disaster had occurred. But by violating the liberty and property rights of the Ghostbusters under the pretense of a false threat to the environment, the government has created a real environmental disaster that now threatens everyone’s lives. In fact, the entire world is now threatened because of this government intervention.

Consider how closely this story recreates the real world, ghosts and goblins notwithstanding. The government’s record on protecting the environment has followed this pattern  since the moment activists got the idea the government could save the world. Among the sparkling achievements of government environmentalism has been the banning of DDT, a safe and effective insecticide that was vilified and ultimately banned because of its supposed threat to the environment. Subsequently, farmers were forced to employ less effective insecticides that really do harm the environment, while a later study showed DDT could actually be eaten by humans over an extended period of time with no adverse health effects.

In another historic blunder, the government decided to employ its ability to coercively override private decisions in order to encourage the production and distribution of ethanol, the fuel additive made from corn. This had the unintended consequence of causing food shortages and skyrocketing prices while failing to significantly affect America’s dependence on fossil fuels. The crowning achievement of this boondoggle was the revelation that the production of ethanol actually consumes more fossil fuel than it produces and is a net positive in carbon emissions. Had property rights been protected, instead of destroyed by the government, none of this would have happened.

Most recently, the government decided it would address two problems at once by “stimulating the economy” with its Cash for Clunkers program. Not only would this supposedly help the economy, but because those trading in their clunkers would have to buy “greener” cars (with other people’s money), it would also help the environment. Of course, the result was perfectly good used cars were destroyed while their owners took out loans for new ones, resulting in a decrease in wealth and an increase in debt for society as whole. In addition, it turned out the owners of the clunkers had previously been limiting their driving due to either concerns about breakdowns or the general lack of pleasure inherent in driving their clunkers. Once provided with new cars by the government, they began driving far more than they previously had, producing more exhaust and consuming more fossil fuels. Another government disaster funded by legal plunder.

As in the movie, every attempt by government to use its coercive power to protect the environment not only fails, but actually creates the very problems it purports to try to solve. In most cases, the problem does not even exist until the government undertakes to solve it. What is the government’s solution? Always it is to attack private property and free enterprise.

It never ceases to amaze me that the American public at large exhibits absolutely no skepticism towards the politically connected segment of the environmental movement. For 100 years, members of a certain political movement claimed private property and free enterprise would destroy society. The 20th century proved them absolutely wrong. Those societies which did away with private property and free enterprise were destroyed themselves, while those which (for the most part) retained property rights flourished. Subsequently, the members of this same political movement suddenly became activists for the environment, studied the problem, and concluded there was only one way to save the earth from environmental disaster: by abolishing private property and free enterprise. Does no one find this conclusion – by these people – an odd coincidence? Does no one even suspect their motives? Are we a nation of fools?

President Obama, please watch the movie. Appoint a “Ghostbusters Czar” to ensure every legislator in the federal government watches it as well. When you have had time to reflect upon its profound message, please declare the environmental war on private property over. If you are looking for wise stewards of the land, you will not find them within the ten square miles you presently inhabit. However, there are some 300 million people who can do a better job just outside of town.

*This article originally appeared on the Campaign for Liberty website.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.