October 25, 2014

What’s so important about replacing Obama with Romney?

TAMPA, April 25, 2012 – Now that the Republican Party and the media have decided, in quite Orwellian fashion, that Mitt Romney has won the nomination (even though he hasn’t); the party has ramped up its campaign to unite behind the Republican candidate. Regardless of those “minor differences” supporters of other candidates may have had, nothing is more important than defeating Barack Obama in November. There is only one question that no one is asking.

Why?

The first answer provided by many Republicans is “Obama is a socialist.”

I don’t read minds, so I can’t speculate as to what President Obama thinks. He may silently recite Saul Alinsky while he signs executive orders. He may be wearing Karl Marx Underoos when he reads from his teleprompter. I don’t know (and don’t want to know). We can only judge him on what he’s done. So far, he hasn’t done anything substantively more socialist than George W. Bush.

Continue at Communities@Washington Times…

What is Greed?

Whether you are liberal, conservative, libertarian, or none of the above, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for the “Occupiers.” Even if do not agree with them on every issue, there is something very American about a grassroots movement to “fight the man” and protest the existing order. After all, that is how the united States of America were born. As with the Tea Party, it is refreshing to see a group of Americans objecting to something about the sad state of our republic, rather than indifferently accepting each new depridation like sheep awaiting the slaughter.

It is in this spirit that I take issue with one of the central themes of the OWS movement: the fight against “greed.” Here is one area where I believe that the Occupiers are chasing a phantom. Greed is the government’s favorite hobgoblin. Any politician with a bad record, skeleton’s in his closet, or some other threat to his phoney baloney job can invoke this loosely defined vice and count on some level of support in his time of need (for votes). But what is greed and how can one fight it?

That is two questions and one cannot answer the second before resolving the first. I believe that if you asked any 10 people at random for their definition of greed, you would get 10 different answers. The first answer is usually “a desire to have more than one needs.” However, this doesn’t hold up very well. It is obvious that all people desire more than they need. Without accumulating more wealth than what is minimally needed for survival, no human being can read or write a book, create a work of art, or perform an act of charity. In fact, none of what we commonly call “culture” would be possible if human beings did not accumulate the excess wealth that affords them the leisure time to create art, literature, charitable organizations, or the other blessings of society.

To this objection, proponents of the “more than one needs” definition will immediately clarify. “No, I meant desiring far more than one needs.” This clarification is just as problematic. How much is too much? Who sets the limit? At what point has one changed from being a hard worker to being “greedy?” Does that limit change from person to person? Is there a greed-o-meter out there that can set a dollar amount?

If one accepts this definition of greed, the solution to the problem is even murkier than the definition itself. Exactly what is to be done about the fact that “the 1% cares only about profits and not about the  rest of society?” Should businesses take specific actions to cut their profits? What are those actions? The great majority of all new businesses fail within their first year, even when their sole motivation is profit. How is an entrepreneur to know for sure that his business will succeed at all, much less make “excessive” profits? What action can he take to counteract this? Should he cease to innovate, improve efficiencies, lower costs for consumers, improve the quality and features  of his products, or employ people? These are the things that entrepreneurs do to make profits. Specifically which one is “bad” for the 99%?

To be fair, many of the comments on the OWS Demands page are more specific. As I’ve said before, they are definitely in the ball park when they finger the financial sector. However, comments like this one indicate that they haven’t yet found their seats:

“The moneyed elite of our society has changed from being apart of the team that built an economy that raised the lives of all men with ample profits for themselves to a Gambler, who only wants to keep score through the accumulation of money, ever screaming for more profits for themselves at the expense of the people they pretend to serve.”

This is a popular theme and not just among OWS supporters. The accusation that economic players in the financial sector took excessive risks that harmed people other than themselves is almost universally accepted, even by conservatives. Remember George W. Bush’s famous pronouncement, “Wall Street got drunk.”

However, the statement that the “gamblers” make “profits for themselves at the expense of the people they pretend to serve” just doesn’t compute. Wall Street did take excessive risks during the boom that predeceded the bust. They did indeed take those risks in the hope of making greater profits. However, those profits would not have been made at the expense of the people they serve. The people they serve would have made those profits, too, on their own money. They voluntarily gave their money to the financial sector in the hopes that the “gamblers” would win them a return on their investment. Had all gone well, the 99% would have realized a huge return. It is fashionable to claim that financiers make money for producing nothing, but this isn’t true. They make money from their ability to make sound investments and the willingness of other people to pay them to do if for them.

So what can be done about this problem? How do politicians or their constituents, who know nothing about investing (which is the whole reason that they give their money to financiers in the first place), make rules for how much risk investors are allowed to take? Do those rules apply to their own investments? Without some risk, there are no new businesses, no new jobs, no economic growth. How much risk is too much and who decides? The investors themselves or people who know nothing about investing? If investors are not allowed to take whatever risks they deem prudent and the result is that the economy in America dies, will the 99% take responsibility for that? We know that the politicians won’t.

All of these seemingly insoluble dilemmas spring from the initial premise about greed. As long as greed is defined in terms of how much wealth one desires to accumulate, the conclusions that one draws from that premise will always be absurd. The amount of wealth one accumulates or desires to accumulate is immaterial. Instead, it is the means by which one wishes to acquire it that is vital.

If you change your definition of greed from “desiring more than one needs” to “desiring more than one has earned,” then all of the contradictions and ambiguities disappear. Of course, we are immediately begging the question of how to define “earned,” but that is a simple matter. One has earned wealth if one has acquired it without initiating the use of force against anyone else. Under this definition, money given to someone as a charitable contribution qualifies as earned just as profits made from selling products do. In this scenario, the amount of wealth one is able to accumulate has a natural limit – the amount that others are willing to pay for one’s goods or services. This eliminates those troublesome questions about how much is too much in terms of profit.

To be greedy, then, is not the desire to accumulate more wealth than one needs, but the desire to accumulate more than others are willing to pay you for your services. For in order to do that, you must forcibly take the money that they would not willingly give. There is only one institution in all of society that can facilitate this legally: government.

Thus, if Person A accumulates $1 million by selling 100,000 units of his product at $10 per unit, he is not being greedy. He has made an equitable exchange with his fellow human beings: $1 million in products for $1 million in money. In this scenario, he and the 99% are square. Each has benefitted equally from the exchange. We know that he has earned his $1 million because the consumers set the price of his products with their voluntary decision to buy.

Now consider Person B, who wishes to accumulate that same $1 million through government employment, subsidies or privileges. No one voluntarily buys his product. The fact that the government has to either subsidize Person B or protect him from competition means that he is trying to sell something that people would not otherwise buy at his asking price. At best, Person B has sold something at a higher price than people are willing to pay. At worst he has sold something that his fellow humans don’t want at all, but are forced to purchase by the government.

Either way, Person B is greedy – he wishes to accumulate wealth beyond what people are willing to pay him voluntarily. In other words, he is willing to commit armed theft against his neighbors. As you can see, Person B may be far more greedy in his desire for even $50,000 than Person A is in his desire for $100 million, if Person B plans to obtain it by force and Person A means to obtain it through voluntary exchange.

OWS is right to want to stamp out greed, but they aren’t defining it correctly. Since Woodrow Wilson, progressives have been making the same fundamental error in failing to distinguish between legitimately acquired wealth and wealth acquired through government force. It is the latter that OWS should look to stamp out, rather than indiscriminately condemning anyone who becomes wealthy. The most effective way to fight greed by its true definition is to take the Occupation to Washington, D.C., where the power that the greedy utilize resides.

Imagine a world in which every individual has an equal chance to be a millionaire, but only if he offers his fellow individuals $1 million in benefits, with the 99% deciding for themselves how much they are willing to pay. That is a world without greed. That is what we used to call “freedom.”

Why a Debt Default Would Be Wonderful

While it is likely that the two parties in Congress will reach a deal before the August 2 deadline, I can’t help reflecting on how wonderful it would be if they didn’t. While Congressman Ron Paul has correctly pointed out that the government has already defaulted at least three different times in its history, and continues to default every time it prints new money, it is not quite the same as an “on-the-books” failure to make a timely payment. That is exactly what America needs.

Politicians, mainstream economists, and the media tell us that a U.S. government debt default would be catastrophic. Treasury bonds would be downgraded, interest rates would soar, and the massive government spending that has supposedly fueled the present (jobless) recovery would be severely curtailed, plunging the U.S. and possibly the world back into a deep recession.

Perhaps that is true. However, a debt default by the federal government would still be a blessing to American society for several reasons.

First, one must remember that all government spending represents a redistribution of wealth (what we regular folks call “stealing”). The government forcibly confiscates money from those who have earned it and spends it for the benefit of someone else. The most insidious way that the government does this is by borrowing. When it borrows, it is confiscating money from people in the future – some of whom are not even born yet – to hand out to their special interest supporters today. To the extent that it would prevent or decrease this, a default would result in a more just society.

However, even if one doesn’t care about justice or property rights, a default would help correct the very malinvestment that has caused the crisis in the first place. As I’ve said before, the entire U.S. economy is really one, huge bubble of misallocated resources, caused by at least a century of government intervention. Most people recognize that the government’s backing of mortgages, together with monetary inflation by the Federal Reserve, were the primary causes of the housing bubble. However, most people fail to recognize this same dynamic in almost every sector of the economy.

The government also backs student loans for people to go to college. Just like it did to the housing industry, this has inflated the price of higher education far beyond what could be supported by real demand. That in turn has led to the creation of millions of jobs in the education sector that only exist because the government redistributes wealth to back those loans. When the government funds are no longer there, the price of education will plummet, just as housing prices did. All of those people will be out of work.

Healthcare is another sector with all of the same intervention-related problems. Government subsidy creates artificial demand, inflating the price and driving the misallocation of resources to the healthcare sector. The industry is not forced to innovate in terms of delivering its services in more efficient ways because the customers are forced to buy its products (if you doubt this, just withhold the Medicare portion of your payroll taxes and see what happens). This also directs employees into the healthcare sector that would not be supported by natural market forces. When the government can no longer subsidize it, the bubble will pop, just like housing and education. Again, massive unemployment for misallocated human resources.

Banking, research, agriculture, energy, automobile manufacturing – there is not one sector that anyone can name where government is not overriding the voluntary transactions that market participants would otherwise engage in. Wherever the government is spending taxpayer money, it is overriding the choice that the taxpayer would have made if he had been allowed to keep his money and spend it as he pleased. As F.A. Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom, the government has never and can never make better choices than millions of market participants acting in their own self-interest. They simply lack the information necessary to do so.

So, wherever the government is spending money to try to boost some aggregate statistic, it is making the problem bigger, not smaller. If government spending is creating jobs, they are not real jobs. A real job is a voluntary contract between a buyer of services (an employer) and a seller of services (an employee). If that job is created because of government spending, then a third party is introduced into the transaction who is not acting voluntarily.  Government-created jobs force taxpayers to purchase services from employees because it is not profitable for the employers in that sector to purchase them. Forcing taxpayers to purchase them doesn’t make those jobs any more profitable. It just depletes the capital available to create profitable jobs elsewhere.

The prospect of perhaps tens of millions more people unemployed may seem frightening, but that day is coming regardless of what politicians do in Washington. Economic laws are like the laws of nature. They will assert themselves in the end. Any job that requires the government to borrow more money to subsidize it is also a job that depends upon the lenders continuing to lend. As we have seen in recent Treasury bond auctions, those days are coming to an end. Raising the statutory debt ceiling only allows more phony jobs to be created, setting up more employees for the painful correction.

However, the most important reason that a debt default will be beneficial is a philosophic one. It will force a complete paradigm shift in the way Americans think about the role of government. For at least a century, there has been no area of life that some special interest has not appealed to government to manage or subsidize. From the way we conduct commerce to the way we make personal decisions on food or healthcare to the way we coexist with our neighbors in other countries, nothing has been off limits. Complacency about our liberty has been one reason. The other has been the perception of infinite financial resources. The great wealth that the United States generated in its freest period provided a tax base and borrowing collateral that has always been perceived as unlimited. A debt default would shatter that foolish perception.

The default would be a bucket of cold water in the faces of a drowsy and compliant populace. It would wake people up to the reality that Thomas Paine was aware of over 200 years ago, when he wrote that government “is at best, a necessary evil.” People would realize that the government doesn’t “have our back,” other than to stick a gun in it to loot our liberty and wealth. We would no longer hear that horrid refrain from media pundits after some new government incursion or heist: “Well, the government had to do something.” Instead, we would hear the resigned chorus, “Well, the government couldn’t do anything.” And perhaps, in some glorious, enlightened future, “The government shouldn’t do anything.”

The Three P’s: Things Government Cannot and Should Not Do

In this late stage of America’s devolution from constitutional republic to social democracy, one is hard pressed to find meaningful debate anywhere about the role of government. Despite a 24/7 news cycle and endless political commentary on talk radio, most Americans have not once in their lives heard the question posed, “What is the purpose of government?” Certainly, we hear that “the government should do this” or “the government should not do that” in regard to particular issues, but nowhere will you hear a meaningful discussion about the underlying mission of government. Indeed, answering this question might not be all that beneficial to our chattering classes, because once it is answered, there is little need for hours and hours of more talk. Clarifying the role of government makes the answers to most political questions rather simple and unambiguous. It is hard not to suspect that many of our politicians avoid this subject intentionally.

If America is truly the “land of the free,” then there can be only one answer to this question. The purpose of government is to defend its constituents against aggression. Period. Since “liberty” and “the non-aggression principle” are one and the same, it is impossible for government to have any other purpose, or any additional role.

As government is by definition the societal use of force, any action of government other than defense against aggression must itself be aggression.  To induce human action through aggression is coercion. When coercion is practiced by government, it is called tyranny.

Freedom is the ability to exercise one’s will in the absence of coercion.  Therefore, freedom is impossible once government is allowed to perform any function other than defense.  If freedom is exercising one’s will in the absence of coercion, one cannot be free while being coerced. Two plus two cannot equal five.

That leaves a multitude of actions that government must be prohibited from engaging in. They generally fall into three categories, which I like to call “the Three P’s.” The Three P’s are to prevent, to promote, and to provide.  There is no way for government to engage in any of these three activities without destroying the liberty that it supposedly exists to defend.  Yet, this is 99 percent of what government in modern America does.

Most Americans look to government to prevent crime.  Once a particularly heinous crime is reported in the media, there are universal outcries about the failure of government to prevent it.  Almost no one stops to think about what it really means for government to “prevent crime.”  By definition, to prevent something is to act before it happens.  Since all government action represents the use of force, government can only prevent crime by initiating force against people who have committed no crime.  Force must always be initiated by someone.  The initiating party is the aggressor.  There is no other possibility.

This is not merely a theoretical or academic argument.  Think for a moment about the results of government’s various “crime prevention” efforts.  Gun control disarms the victims of crimes while empowering violent criminals who don’t care about gun control laws.  Economic regulations which attempt to prevent fraud insulate protected corporations from competition, emboldening them to commit more fraud.  Worst of all, the War on Terror, the ultimate government crime prevention program, has harassed millions of American citizens while allowing terrorists to walk onto planes with explosives in their shoes, underwear (and who knows where else), and has laid waste to an entire nation in order to determine that the “weapons of mass destruction” it supposedly possessed did not in fact exist.

In addition to preventing crime (including terrorism), that war also claims to undertake another of the Three P’s: to “promote.”  Once it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a new rationalization was needed for our brutal invasion of that country.  That new reason turned out to be our missionary desire to “promote democracy.”  Without getting into the erroneous perception that “democracy” and “freedom” are synonymous, it should be quite clear after seven years of uninterrupted martial law in Iraq that our government has failed to achieve either democracy or freedom.  Only government can be capable of missing the irony of ordering people at gunpoint to be free.  While it might play for some good laughs in a Peter Sellers or Monty Python movie, it is really quite horrifying when one considers that our government takes this position in all seriousness.

It is not only in foreign policy that government reaps disastrous results when trying to “promote.”  Consider its attempts to promote “clean energy.”  One need look no farther than the ethanol fiasco or “Climategate” to see the results government gets in promoting respect for the environment.

The same underlying reason accounts for the similarity of results when government tries to “promote” or to “prevent.”  In both cases, force is initiated against individuals who have committed no aggression themselves.  In order for government to “promote” anything, it must act.  When government acts in the absence of aggression, it commits aggression.  By committing aggression against and therefore overriding the decisions of millions of individuals, government causes innumerable unintended consequences.  All of them can be traced to the initiation of force.

The third of the Three P’s is by far the most destructive when undertaken by government: to provide.  The illusion that government can “provide” anything springs from a loss of recognition of what government is.  Government is the use of force, not by an individual, but by all of society.  As it is a destructive force, rather than a creative one, it can produce nothing.  Therefore, it can only provide something to one citizen that it has forcefully seized from another.  This holds true whether it is attempting to provide healthcare, education, housing, or any other form of property.

The fact that human beings spend the majority of their time on earth laboring to fulfill their wants or needs makes this the most costly of the Three P’s.  While warfare represents violent aggression against millions of people, government’s usurpation of human labor initiates violence against everyone.  While the cost of warfare in human lives cannot be expressed in dollars and cents, there is at least a limit to the amount of lives it can affect and the length of time it will go on (despite government’s best efforts to make it universal and indefinite).  However, once government has claimed a right to the labor of its constituents, no one is spared and the subjugation never ends.

While the active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amount to less than $200 billion per year (as if those amounts were not staggering themselves), the U.S. government spends trillions of dollars each year attempting to provide its citizens with healthcare, retirement benefits, education, housing, and other necessities.  Government’s results in all of these areas are the same: disastrous.  The healthcare, education, and housing provided by government are more expensive, of lower quality, and in shorter supply than would be the case if government did not attempt to provide them.  Aggression cannot create prosperity any more than it can create freedom.

Thomas Paine wrote that “government is at best a necessary evil.”  He understood clearly what government is: an institution of violence.  As individuals, we understand that the need may arise to commit violence against another human being, but only justifiably for one reason: to defend our lives against aggression.  Should we be faced with that unfortunate choice, we may be justified in resorting to violence but afterwards regret that the need to do so arose. Most importantly, no sane person claims a right to initiate violence under any other circumstances.  As we do not possess this power as individuals, we cannot delegate this power to government.  Any legitimate power possessed by government must derive from the individuals who constitute it.

To put it most succinctly, government must always be limited to a negative power.  It is the societal extension of the individual right of self defense.  As individuals cannot use force to prevent, promote, or provide, government cannot either.  Individuals have no right to force one another to do anything, even if they believe that it is in the victims’ best interests.  So, whenever the question arises of whether government should involve itself in some new aspect of its citizens’ lives, remember the Three P’s.  If the new program represents any of them, it is time for each individual to exercise his most basic right in respect to his government: the Fourth P, to prohibit.

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

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>The Crusade Against Greed: Government’s Scapegoat

>Despite the fact that this economic crisis is unfolding exactly the way that the Austrian economists predicted it would, along with the impending police state that Hayek predicted over 60 years ago, the American people show absolutely no sign of figuring out the CAUSE of this crisis. The most discouraging aspect of the whole debacle is the propensity of the American people to take the government bait by blaming this financial and economic collapse on “greed.” This plays right into the government’s hands.

As platitudes go, those warning against greed are the ones that people should be most suspicious of. Anyone that seems overly interested in making you feel guilty about accumulating too much property probably has an interest in acquiring what you leave behind. If nothing else, the fact that both Republicans and Democrats are vilifying greed should make people think twice about whether they may be burning the wrong witch when they seek to blame greed for our present troubles.

Webster’s defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.”[1] Any student of economics should be suspicious of this vice. While “selfish and excessive” certainly conjures up distasteful emotions, those are little more than prejudicial adjectives accompanying the real substance of the definition: desire for more of something than is needed. Does this mean that anyone with a savings account is greedy?

While one could counter that some savings are actually “needed,” a moment’s reflection should have one questioning what the real motivation for vilifying greed might be. Who do we find denouncing greed the most vehemently? The rich and powerful. Does this bother anyone besides me?

Let me be clear. Greed had nothing to do with causing this financial crisis, no matter how many times you are told that it did by the media and politicians looking for votes. In economics, the goal of every market participant is to acquire “more than is needed.” If the truth be told, acquiring more than is needed is what Jefferson really meant when he talked about the “Pursuit of Happiness.” Property – the fruits of your labor – is the means by which you sustain your existence and provide opportunity for intellectual and spiritual enrichment. Those who must work every waking hour just to provide the basic necessities of life have time for neither quiet meditation nor for reading Dostoevsky. By acquiring more than you need, you create leisure time to pursue your other interests and enable yourself to provide for your children or to give to charity. In this life on earth, acquiring more than you need is the means to happiness and security for yourself and those that you love. It is also your unalienable right, as our founders repeatedly told us.

The whole point of participating in a free market is to acquire as much property as you possibly can. Not only is there nothing wrong with this, it is actually vital to the health of the market. With every participant acting in their rational self interest to maximize their wealth, the minds of all participants are leveraged and society as a whole reaps enormous benefits.

One of the key mistakes that critics of free market capitalism make is failing to understand that there is only one way to acquire great value in that system: to offer great value in return. Listening to the proponents of socialism, one might be led to believe that one can only gain at another’s expense. This is not true. In a laissez faire capitalist system, economic agents trade to their mutual benefit. Every exchange is perceived by both parties to be an EQUAL exchange, or it does not occur. That is the nature of VOLUNTARY exchange. No one deliberately causes themselves harm. While they may not always trade wisely, more often than not they do, and in every case they make an exchange that they believe is in their best interests. One can only consume great wealth by producing great wealth.[2]

Thus, it should be clear that there is no such thing as acquiring “too much” in a free market. Only by supplying enormous value can any economic agent acquire enormous value. Acquiring property in a voluntary trade by offering equal value in return is the essence of “earning.” In a free market, all transactions are voluntary. Therefore, all wealth must be earned.

A second reason for wrongly perceiving a threat from greed in a free market is the failure to acknowledge the role played by risk. There is always some amount of wealth that can be acquired with very little risk. However, in order to achieve greater amounts of wealth, economic agents must accept greater amounts of risk. Risk acts as a counterbalance to what is commonly referred to as greed. If an economic agent seeks to acquire value far beyond the value he is offering in return, he can only do so by taking inordinate risk, and will virtually always fail. While the attempt to acquire value with this type of speculation might not be admirable, others certainly have no right to forcefully stop him from doing so. The risk is his, as are the gains or losses he realizes as a result. In a free market, there is no moral or economic justification for attacking “the speculator.”

That brings us to our present crisis and its real cause. It was not greed – the desire to accumulate more than one needs – that caused the crisis. What caused the crisis was government removing the risk of lending to sub-prime borrowers by guaranteeing mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. With no fear of losing their investment, lenders had no reason not to take inordinate risk in lending to sub-prime borrowers. In fact, Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd told the New York Times that he was actually pressured by the government to continue increasing the risk that Fannie was exposed to. According to Times reporter Charles Duhigg,

“Capitol Hill bore down on Mr. Mudd as well. The same year he took the top position, regulators sharply increased Fannie’s affordable-housing goals. Democratic lawmakers demanded that the company buy more loans that had been made to low-income and minority homebuyers.”[3]

Whatever the true intentions behind creating these government-sponsored enterprises (GSE’s), they violated moral and economic law with predictable – and predicted – results. This intervention into the market and suspension of market forces was the direct cause of the sub-prime crisis, not greed.

This was more than just a bone-headed mistake by government. It was a crime. Governments are instituted to secure individual rights, including property rights. Instead of protecting the property of its citizens, government stole it to guaranty sub-prime loans. Now that its ill-advised program has failed, government is looking for a scapegoat. Enter “the greedy financier,” and the real culprit walks.

None of this is meant to absolve the lenders, who knowingly made loans to people who could not pay them back. However, the guilt should be shared equally between the lenders, the borrowers, and the government. It was not greed that they were guilty of, it was stealing. They stole money from the taxpayers to make the loans possible. All three parties benefitted by passing risk onto taxpayers without their consent. The problem was not the desire for too much wealth. It was the desire for wealth that they did not earn.

This is an important distinction, because we will soon be subject to a government “solution” to this supposed problem of excessive greed. Blaming greed for the crisis plays right into the government’s hands, as it allows government to respond with measures that will limit the amount of money that can be earned, even legitimately. Already we are hearing calls for more regulation. This amounts to a further violation of our rights and will continue the destruction of our markets. On the other hand, if we recognize the true cause of the crisis, we can demand less regulation and an end to government intervention into the marketplace, which is what our markets actually need. One cannot prescribe the medicine until one has accurately diagnosed the disease. Don’t let the government off the hook by buying into their crusade against greed. Instead of free markets, let’s punish the truly guilty for once.

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/greed
[2] It should be noted that this applies to truly free markets. In the U.S. mixed economy, government privilege allows some to accumulate great wealth because of that privilege, rather than any great value they offer the marketplace in return. Of course, the solution to this is to eliminate government privilege, not restrict the market further.
[3] Duhigg, Charles “The Reckoning: Pressured to Take More Risk, Fannie Reached Tipping Point” The New York Times Oct. 4, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/business/05fannie.html?pagewanted=1&sq=mudd&st=cse&scp=1

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>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.

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>Be Careful What You Fight For

>There is one positive consequence of the economic collapse that is occurring, and the futile attempt by the government to stop it with money stolen from its constituents: the American public has woken up. Despite the best efforts of the major media outlets to spin this the way the government would like, it is apparent that mainstream America is mighty angry that they are being fleeced to prop up the financial system. I hope that anger does not fade with the passage of time – at least not until after November 4th. While wholesale changes are unlikely, it would be nice to see a few incumbents packing after this election and replaced by non-Republicrats. It would be an encouraging sign of things to come.

However, as good as it is to finally see some outrage over the destruction of our Republic, there is still a long way to go. Listening closely to the cries of anger, it is apparent that the majority of Americans still haven’t found their way to actually demanding their freedom. While they are angry, it seems that government has successfully channeled their anger in the wrong direction. Generally, Americans are mad at Wall Street, and are blaming this crisis on “greed.” To the extent that they fault government, they are blaming the crisis on “not enough regulation on Wall Street” and even (ugh) “too much laissez faire capitalism.” This of course plays right into the government’s hands, because the answer to “too much laissez faire capitalism” is more government intervention into the marketplace – which was the REAL cause of this problem in the first place.

If anything, the number one clue that it was not free enterprise that caused this debacle is that the government says it was. By now, every American should know to listen carefully to everything that the Bush Administration says and assume that exactly the opposite is true. However, decades of conditioning to mistrust the free market is paying off for the government, at least for the time being. They have turned this into a class war, instead of an ideological one. They have Americans indiscriminately resenting the wealthy, whether they earned their money legitimately or not. They have Americans condemning corporations, whether they achieved their place in the market legitimately or not. While Americans are mad at their government, they have been convinced, for the moment, that government’s failure was not protecting the average American from the evils of capitalism.

Of course, the truth is that this crisis was a failure of socialism, not capitalism. It was the socialist idea that every American was entitled to a house, and that taxpayers must pay for them, that led to the creation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those companies guaranteed mortgages to people that would not have received them in a free market. Only the ability of the government to forcibly collect taxes to back those mortgages allowed the lenders to offer them. If there was any doubt that the government was backing Fannie and Freddie with taxpayer money, that doubt was removed when the government took over the companies when their inevitable failure occurred.

Even with the GSE’s in place, it took another socialist institution, the Federal Reserve, to supply the imaginary money needed to lend to all of those “sub-prime” borrowers. Without the imaginary “liquidity” provided by the Fed, the loans could never have been made and the home prices could never have been bid up so far. The Fed merely blew up another bubble, as it has been doing since the day it opened its doors in 1913.

What these interventions into the marketplace do is create artificial demand. Everyone knows that an increase in demand, while supply remains equal (or when the increase in demand outpaces an increase in supply), results in an increase in price levels. However, demand is not merely the desire to purchase a product, but also the ability to do so. If demand were merely the desire to have something, there would be unlimited demand for all products and services, taking most of the challenge out of running a successful business! The Fed and Fannie Mae certainly didn’t increase the number of people who desired to have a house, but it dramatically increased their purchasing power. In fact, the combination of easy money and credit by the Fed and the incentive for lax lending standards represented a massive increase in demand over the entire housing market, with the predictable dramatic increase in home prices. None of this represents free market forces at work. It is textbook socialist central planning and wealth redistribution.

That brings us to the government “solution,” and what Americans should really be mad about. Our government is now going to forcibly extort trillions of dollars from us in a misguided attempt to maintain the artificial conditions it created in the market. It won’t work. They have tried it many times, and it has never worked. The artificial demand drove prices far above their natural level, and natural market forces are now pushing them back down. Borrowers were lent money that they were never going to be able to pay back. What is worse, a large percentage took the artificial equity caused by the rise in price of their homes in home equity loans and spent it. That money is gone, and the borrowers can’t pay it back. Government taking possession of the mortgages isn’t going to change that. Those borrowers are still going to default, and the home prices are eventually going to go where they naturally must go. Economic forces are like forces of nature. In the end they cannot be stopped.

This intervention is practically identical to the interventions attempted during the Roosevelt administration in the 1930’s, which turned a severe 2-year recession into a crushing, 10-year depression. This bailout will have devastatingly similar results. It doesn’t matter whether a CEO gets away with a $10 million dollar bonus or not. What matters is tens of millions of Americans unemployed for a very, very long time. THAT will be the result of government’s attempts to maintain the artificial conditions in the economy that GOVERNMENT created in the first place.

Since the Austrian economists predicted all of this, while the Keynesians did not, it might pay to listen to what the Austrians suggest as a solution to these government-created crises. While their first advice was always not to create the problems in the first place, they certainly were clear about what to do when the inevitable bubble bursts occurred. Not surprisingly, they advised us to do EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what the government proposes. The cure for the recession, according to the Austrians, was to EASE regulation on business, especially in the labor market, and allow the quickest, smoothest reallocation of resources (including human resources) that was possible. As government intervention had created the problem, more government intervention was not going to solve it. In fact, any intervention could only make it worse, no matter what form it took. That is because the wealth creating mechanism of capitalism depends upon the participants making their decisions voluntarily, and government intervention represents forcing people to make different choices. This is really what most Americans are demanding from their government right now – for government to force market participants to choose differently than they otherwise would. Be careful what you fight for, Mr. and Mrs. America, you will probably get even more than you asked for.

I do have hope, however. Sooner or later, Americans will figure this out. At least they’re screaming about something now, which is a lot better than the docile slumber they’ve exhibited over the past several decades as we’ve marched toward oblivion. The government would much rather have them keep on sleeping than to have to divert their anger towards scapegoats and imaginary boogeymen. They will succeed in doing just that this time, but their system is nearing its end. The inevitable economic debacle will occur, and hopefully that will be the final straw. Americans have put their faith in government control and central planning of their lives for almost a century, and it has consistently let them down. Perhaps this last calamity will finally make them see the socialist lie for what it is. Then, they will finally stop walking down the road to serfdom.

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>The Failure of Capitalism: Government’s Great Lie

>Sadly, the historic rip-off of the American public that has just taken place has met with little resistance from the victims. However, lest any inconvenient contrarians or clear thinkers rise up from the masses, the Great Rip-off comes with a Great Lie to justify it. While there have never been a shortage of factions ready to decry the evils of capitalism, it is important during a heist of this proportion that EVERYONE get on board. So, what you have heard from virtually everyone in government and in the media, and even from the Republican Nominee for President of the United States is that the current meltdown in the financial sector is a failure of free market capitalism. This is government’s Great Lie.

To anyone with even a passing familiarity with American history since 1912, this might seem like a bigger whopper than any fish story they’ve ever heard. However, a lie that enormous is necessary when you are literally stealing trillions of dollars from 300 million people who are watching your every move. To pull off a crime like that, you are going to have to convince those people that you are really helping them out.

Despite decades of increasing intervention by government into the economy, the vast majority of people seem ready to accept the past decade as “an experiment” with laissez faire capitalism. Critical of the Bush administration, House majority leader Steny Hoyer told RTTNews,

“With inflation, everybody who had any investment has lost money, 401(k) savings plans, pensions, they’ve lost money,” he said. “That’s a stark failure of the economy and this administration’s laissez faire, take the referee off the field, let anyone do whatever they want to do and everything will be fine.”[1]

In an article published Saturday morning, AFP reported,

“The top Senate Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, blamed the crisis on Bush’s laissez-faire policies, then called on the president to better explain why such a sweeping program was needed as the country prepared for a presidential vote in less than six weeks’ time.”[2]

While such rhetoric might be expected from Democratic Party leaders, especially during an election year, there is no substantive rebuttal from the other side. Quite the contrary, as John McCain’s interview with the New York Times makes clear.

“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. Teddy Roosevelt was the first one that took on the big trusts, first time we began to have regulatory agencies. He said, unfettered capitalism leads to corruption. I’ve always agreed with that.”[3]

If the Great Lie is that this crisis represents a failure of capitalism, then there are a lot of little lies that help support it. Congressman Hoyer’s characterization of laissez faire capitalism as letting “anyone do whatever they want to do and everything will be fine” is just such a supporting lie. It is a variation of the attack on freedom itself as if it places no limit on anyone’s actions. In both cases, the limit is harming another individual. Laissez faire capitalism does not allow contracts to be broken, nor does it allow force or fraud to be initiated in forming them. While these limits are vital to true laissez faire capitalism, Congressman Hoyer would have us believe they are prohibited by it. Take note of Hoyer’s choice of words as well. It is apparent that even in the absence of any wrongdoing, Hoyer has an aversion to people doing “whatever they want to do.” This betrays the true nature of the statist.

The real substance of the Great Lie, though, is based upon the characterization of the American economy in any recent decade as “capitalism.” It isn’t. In fact, even our government and media establishment acknowledge that the U.S. economy is a “mixed economy,” supposedly combining the benefits of free market capitalism with the benefits of socialist central planning. The Lie says that it has been too much “unfettered capitalism” that has caused the problems that we are presently experiencing, rather than too much socialist central planning. How can it be determined which aspect of our economy is to blame?

In reality, there can be no such thing as a “mixed economy.” What we are really witnessing is the inevitable failure of that idea. It is doomed from the start, because the moment that ANY central planning is introduced, capitalism ceases to exist entirely. Once government control is introduced anywhere, it must eventually be introduced everywhere, resulting in all of the destructive consequences associated with the failures of socialism throughout history. The truth of the matter is that there is no “capitalism” in our mixed economy at all.

The proof? Let us consider what capitalism is, and whether its definition applies to the U.S. economy. Merriam-Webster defines capitalism as,

“an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”[4]

Of the three elements in this dictionary definition, private ownership of capital, voluntary exchange, and competition, it is the second that is fundamental to the other two. Why? First, as long as there is voluntary exchange of property, there will be private ownership of capital. There is no way for government to acquire property in a “voluntary exchange.” Even a revenue generating enterprise started by government has to be funded into existence by tax money, and taxes are collected under the threat of force. Therefore, in a system where all of the transactions are voluntary, all property, including capital goods, remain privately owned.

Second, when all transactions are voluntary, most buyers and sellers are going to try to act in their best interests. Sellers will constantly try to convince buyers to purchase their products or services, rather than those of others. Likewise, buyers are going to try to find the best products at the lowest prices, motivating sellers to maximize their quality and minimize their price so that their products will be chosen over those of other sellers. Therefore, voluntary exchange naturally results in competition. It is competition that motivates innovation and improvement in efficiencies, and lowers the cost of production. Thus, it is free choice that ultimately drives the wealth-creating mechanism of capitalism. Without free choice, there is no capitalism.

Investments in the U.S. economy can hardly be described as being determined by private decision when government actively steers the investment decisions of capitalists. It does so either by outright subsidization of investments it favors, or by providing tax breaks to companies that make those investments. It is ironic that government often characterizes this second method as positive action to stimulate growth. After taxing all business activity to the brink of insolvency, it then gives back a small portion of the booty to investors willing to do its bidding. By doing so it wins political support, and at the same time distorts the economy, creating new problems to solve with future interventions. Thus, the government protects the job security of its incumbents and creates the need for more government all in one fell swoop.

Neither are prices really determined by competition in a free market in the U.S. economy. Prices are routinely fixed by government intervention, such as the prices of agricultural produce by government farm subsidies or the price of healthcare by massive government subsidization through entitlement programs. The price of labor is distorted by minimum wages and massive regulation that makes employing people infinitely more expensive than it otherwise would be. Interest rates, or the price of borrowing money, are set by the central bank, which is the most harmful price fixing of all (we will look more closely at this momentarily). While some prices are set by market forces, a large percentage is affected in one way or another by government.

Similarly, the distribution of goods in the U.S. is sometimes determined by competition in a free market, but that is only after government has taken over 12 percent of all goods and services produced in the economy and redistributed them through massive welfare programs, destroying the possibility of any real, voluntary savings. For those goods that are distributed in part as a result of competition, it can hardly be described as occurring in a “free market” when employers cannot really decide for themselves who to hire, employees cannot accept any wage they wish to, massive regulation protects large companies from smaller competitors, and even imports and exports are subject to over 20,000 pages of regulation in “free trade agreements” like NAFTA.

Most harmful of all is the supreme intervention into the economy by the central bank, which not only artificially sets the interest rates that ultimately determine the cost of investment, but artificially controls the volume and purchasing power of the money supply itself. While truly free markets are characterized by a steady decrease in general price levels over time, the artificial inflation of the currency by the central bank reverses this process. While the business cycle is relatively mild in a free market, the bubble-bust cycle caused by central banking ranges from painful to castastrophic.

Thus, the economic problems facing America today are not caused by capitalism, because it doesn’t really exist in the U.S. economy. Capitalism results in a natural, economic equilibrium. Central planning disrupts this equilibrium. In fact, not only are our economic problems caused exclusively by government intervention into the marketplace, rather than capitalism, these problems are the INEVITABLE RESULT of government intervention.

Why? Central planning, by definition, precludes free choice, and therefore capitalism, but does not change human nature. Human beings will still attempt to make choices in their rational self interest. This is one of the reasons for all of the unforeseen consequences of central economic planning. When government forces buyers and sellers to make choices other than those they would make otherwise, those economic agents seek another way to pursue their rational self interest. As these alternative decisions naturally run counter to the government’s desired result, more force is needed to prohibit those choices by economic agents, or to force other economic agents to address the consequences of its intervention. That in turn causes further unforeseen results, requiring further use of force by government. Once government intervenes in the market, it is inevitable that it will have to continue to intervene until it controls every aspect of economic activity. This has been the trend in the U.S. economy for the past 100 years.

In addition, government intervention cannot change economic realities, such as the cost of production. Only innovation can do that, and innovation cannot be created by government decree. Therefore, when government intervenes into the economy, all of the economic forces that were acting upon the market before the intervention continue to act upon it. For example, as Von Mises pointed out, if the government sets a price ceiling for milk, the smaller, marginal producers of milk can no longer afford to continue producing it, and may decide to produce cheese or butter instead. By intending to make milk more available to the poor, government has actually caused a decrease in supply. It then has to fix the prices of factors of production that are necessary to produce milk, causing the same pressure on marginal suppliers in that market and a decrease in supply of those factors of production. The cycle continues to repeat until the government either ceases to intervene in the market completely or nationalizes the entire industry.[5] At that point, even private ownership of capital no longer exists.

Thus, there are some conclusions that can be drawn. One is that there is really no such thing as a “mixed economy.” Economic forces do not allow it. Allowing some economic agents to choose freely in some circumstances does not produce the same results as when all economic agents are allowed to choose freely in all circumstances. Economic events are too interrelated. If the government subsidizes ethanol production, it decreases the supply of corn for food, and drives up food prices. When it imposes a minimum wage, it causes workers that would otherwise have jobs to be unemployed. That in turn decreases supply and drives up the prices of consumer goods. Economic agents making free choices under these circumstances necessarily choose differently than they would if conditions were different. There is no such thing as controlling part of a free market. Therefore, our mixed economy really is no such thing. If the choices of all agents are not free, there is no capitalism. The economy that results simply doesn’t fit the definition.

Another conclusion that can be drawn is that attempting to achieve a mixed economy inevitably leads to complete socialism. As we have seen, the first government intervention into the economy necessitates further interventions, which in turn necessitate further interventions still. The cycle continues until government controls all of the distribution and eventually must take control of all of the capital, as there are no longer private firms that are willing or even able to continue producing under the distorted economic conditions. For those who would argue on behalf of complete control of capital and distribution by government, the plain facts of history are against them. Socialism in its purest form has consistently resulted in mass shortages, famine, starvation, and eventual death for tens of millions of people.

The solution to all of our problems is simple: FREEDOM. While that may sound like a bland platitude, it is nevertheless 100% true, for all issues, without compromise. As Thomas Jefferson said,

“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.”[6]

This “Non-Aggression Principle” is often associated strictly with libertarians or objectivists, but as you can see it did not originate with either. It was a central tenet of the founding fathers, because this principle is THE VERY DEFINITION OF FREEDOM ITSELF.

While it is possible to garner wide support for this principle on many social issues, such as gay marriage, somehow the great majority of people cannot seem to apply it to economics. Despite the fact that economic freedom is the most vital to our survival, as it is the means of sustaining our existence, there are even some libertarians that would apply different rules to economic policy than to the other “civil liberties.” It is vital to recognize that not only is this principle equally applicable to economics, BUT THAT IT IS IN REGARD TO ECONOMIC POLICY THAT IT IS MOST IMPORTANT. It is the only principle that prohibits government intervention and central planning. It is the principle upon which a truly free market is built.

The move toward a truly free market cannot occur without painful side effects. When resources are misallocated on a mass scale, especially human resources, reallocating them means losses, unemployment, and economic suffering in the short term. This would have been the result of government choosing not to intervene in the market to bail out Fannie, Freddie, Bear Stearns, and AIG, to buy up the bad debt of other debt holders, and to guaranty the assets in the money market. However, that economic suffering has not been avoided by government intervention, but merely postponed. In fact, the longer that government intervention succeeds in postponing the inevitable reallocation that must occur, the more resources become misallocated and the more painful the correction will be. At present, we are facing the largest correction in economic history, and government has postponed it longer than a correction has ever been postponed before. Make no mistake. The reallocation is inevitable, and we will experience it either voluntarily or involuntarily.

However, before considering how to survive the painful consequences of this correction, we must first decide that a free market is what we want. This will never happen until the vast majority of Americans recognize the Great Lie for what it is. Doing so immediately might bring political pressure to bear on our government to reverse its present policy while the Great Rip-off can still be undone. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon. It is much more likely that the trend toward socialism will continue until it reaches the conclusion that socialism has reached throughout history: economic collapse. We are closer to that end than most people think.

At that point, Americans will have a choice. They can continue to believe the Great Lie and allow government to try to solve the problem, or they can choose to see the truth and demand their freedom. Historically, the government solution to an economic collapse has been totalitarianism. The fact that the least economically free nations of history were also the most totalitarian is no coincidence. In order to avoid this, Americans must cease to apply special rules to economics and realize that there is no freedom at all without economic freedom. The economics of freedom is laissez faire capitalism. The Great Lie says that laissez faire capitalism doesn’t work. This is merely the application to economics of an even greater lie – government’s most insidious, Greatest Lie of All: that freedom itself doesn’t work. When Americans finally recognize and reject this fallacy, they will once again find themselves on the road to prosperity and peace.

[1] House Majority Leader Slams Bush For Economic Policies RTTNews
[2] “Top Democrats skeptical of Bush bailout package” AFP September 20, 2008
[3] Transcript of an interview with Senator John McCain by John Harwood of The New York Times and CNBC, as provided by CNBC and published in the New York Times on September 21, 2008
[4] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitalism
[5] Von Mises, Ludwig Middle-of-the-Road Policy Leads to Socialism from Two Essays by Ludwig von Mises (Auburn, Ala.: The Mises Institute, 1991, pp. 42-68). http://mises.org/midroad.asp
[6] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816

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>So Many Rights…

>When looking for wisdom in the wilds of western New York, one might be surprised how often it can be found on the airwaves, listening to the legendary hockey announcer, Rick Jeanerette. Over the years, Buffalo Sabres fans have cheered while Jeanerette has boisterously called their teams triumphs with jingles like “Wowee Housley,” “This building is bedlam!” and the immortal “La-la-la-la Fontaine!” One night, after calling the action during a particularly one-sided fight, Jeanerette dryly remarked of the loser,

“He got hit with so many rights he was begging for a left.”

How prophetic.

After eight years of Republican rule (the barely noticeable change in power in Congress being largely irrelevant), most Americans have been reduced to the same circumstances. They may not love what the Democrats have to offer if they ever really take a moment to think about it, but as long as it’s not more of George Bush’s Republicans, they’ll take it. Like the hapless forward in that forgotten hockey brawl, they too have been hit with so many rights that they are begging for a left.

Left is just what they are going to get, and it’s going to hurt just as much – maybe more.
I don’t think that I’m alone in being astonished at how unabashedly socialist the rhetoric was during the Democratic presidential primary debates earlier this year. While Bill Clinton positioned himself as relatively centrist – sometimes almost Republican – while seeking to succeed what was perceived as relatively successful Republican administrations of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the shift is quite startling now that today’s Democrats smell the blood of a Republican administration with approval ratings down around parking level 3. During the primary season, Democrats have suggested nationalizing the oil industry, nationalizing the healthcare system, and have even promised to “end poverty in one generation.”

Now that the primaries are over and Barack Obama has emerged as the party’s presidential candidate, one would expect that the rhetoric might ease a bit. Normally, candidates appeal more directly to the base during primary contests, but must play to independents and even voters of the opposing party when campaigning for the general election. In a way, Obama’s rhetoric is less inflammatory. However, having taken the time to sit down and listen to his speech in Berlin on July 24, I wasn’t, annoyed, disgusted, or outraged. I was terrified. I was terrified at the things that a man that is presently being cheered wildly by crowds of tens of thousands of Americans at a time was saying. Now, granted, he was speaking to the Germans, who practically invented socialism (no offense, monsieurs). However, the words he spoke were undoubtedly HIS words. Let’s take a close look at some of them.

““…that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world, and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe.”

Well, there is a mouthful. It seems that Europeans now have responsibility for critical parts of the world, which I assume are outside of Europe. They are bearing burdens. Somehow, both of these things seem good to Mr. Obama. Of course, Americans are all too aware of the SACRIFICE they are making. Whether or not that sacrifice is really for “freedom” is very open to debate.

A few moments later, Mr. Obama tells the Germans that “the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.” Not only that, but he warns that “A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more, not less.”

Would it be paranoid to suggest that someone wants us to get used to the idea of “burdens?” Of course, the word “sacrifice” has already appeared one time. It will not be the last.

““True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy, of peace and progress, they require allies that will listen to each other, learn from each other, and most of all, trust each other.”

Now, someone will be bearing burdens AND sacrificing. Mr. Obama goes on to say, ““Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation and strong institutions and shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Ok, Ok, I get it. Burden and sacrifice. Mr. Obama obviously wants us to get used to the idea. Of course, the best way to do that is to say the words over and over again. Once people are used to hearing the words, the ideas behind them are soon to follow. Mr. Obama’s intentions seem quite clear. In HIS 21st century, there are burdens to bear and sacrifices to be made.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines sacrifice as “destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.” I think that it is safe to say that Mr. Obama is not talking here about destroying anything (although that is also part of his 21st century). No, the “sacrifice” that Mr. Obama refers to is definitely more in the “surrender” category, namely more of the fruits of your labor. However, the definition of sacrifice says that the surrender is made “for the sake of something else.” What does Mr. Obama have in mind?

Near the end of the speech, Mr. Obama tells us.

“This is our moment, this is our time. I know my country has not been perfect itself. At times, we struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality of all people.”

Here we finally have it, the age old socialist oxymoron, liberty and equality. Certainly, those producing more than they consume will have to sacrifice quite a bit if equality is to be achieved with all of those consuming more than they produce, not to mention those producing nothing at all (including Mr. Obama – although I suspect he will end up in the “more equal than others” category). However, it need not be pointed out that government cannot try to achieve equality and protect liberty at the same time. Liberty recognizes equal rights, but it NEVER results in equality. That’s one of the great things about liberty.

As the Democrats often claim to be “the party of Jefferson,” I will remind Mr. Obama of the words of his party’s patron,

“…that our wish, as well as theirs, is, that the public efforts may be directed honestly to the public good, that peace be cultivated, civil and religious liberty unassailed, law and order preserved; equality of rights maintained, and that state of property, equal or unequal, which results to every man from his own industry, or that of his fathers.”[1]

For those who might not be getting the point, or think that it will be somehow noble or civic-minded to “bear the burdens” of Mr. Obama’s quest for equality, allow me to point out Merriam-Webster’s definition of “burden.”

“the bearing of a load —usually used in the phrase beast of burden.”

How does it sound now?

I do have a question for Barack Obama. It is this: What sacrifices will you make for liberty and equality in the 21st century, Mr. Obama? What burdens will YOU and YOUR family bear?
That’s what I thought.

I know those rights have hurt over the last eight years, Mr. and Mrs. American, but watch out for that left. It may be the knockout blow.

Tom Mullen

[1] Jefferson, Thomas 2nd Inaugural Address (1805)

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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.

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