Monthly Archives: November 2009

Another “Truth in Venn diagrams” moment


Courtesy of GraphJam.com via “Mostly Cajun

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Huckabee’s hypocrisy

The former governor munching on a Huckaburger that he'd try to keep you from eating

The former governor munching on a Huckaburger that he'd try to prevent you from eating. Credit: Reuters

According to this Twitter account, if former Governor Mike Huckabee’s lips are moving, he’s lying.  Let put that statement to a test.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview transcript (emphasis added):

The last time out, my biggest challenge was with the establishment Republicans who just never showed their support. And while I think a person can possibly win without them, the Republican Party needs to unite if it’s going to win in 2012.

Now let’s compare Huckabee’s appeal for unity to other comments he has made.  This is from a year-old Time article:

In a chapter titled “Faux-Cons: Worse than Liberalism,” Huckabee identifies what he calls the “real threat” to the Republican Party: “libertarianism masked as conservatism.” He is not so much concerned with the libertarian candidate Ron Paul’s Republican supporters as he is with a strain of mainstream fiscal-conservative thought that demands ideological purity, seeing any tax increase as apostasy and leaving little room for government-driven solutions to people’s problems. “I don’t take issue with what they believe, but the smugness with which they believe it,” writes Huckabee, who raised some taxes as governor and cut deals with his state’s Democratic legislature. “Faux-Cons aren’t interested in spirited or thoughtful debate, because such an endeavor requires accountability for the logical conclusion of their argument.” Among his targets is the Club for Growth, a group that tarred Huckabee as insufficiently conservative in the primaries and ran television ads with funding from one of Huckabee’s longtime Arkansas political foes, Jackson T. Stephens Jr.

Then there’s this little gem from HuffPo:

Republicans need to be Republicans. The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism; it’s this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it’s a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says “look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don’t get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and healthcare, so be it.” Well, that might be a quote pure economic conservative message, but it’s not an American message. It doesn’t fly. People aren’t going to buy that, because that’s not the way we are as a people. That’s not historic Republicanism. Historic Republicanism does not hate government; it’s just there to be as little of it as there can be. But they also recognize that government has to be paid for.

It seems that Huckabee is all for GOP unity so long as everyone in The Village agrees with his big-government prescriptions.  Not to kick a big-government Republican while he’s down, but it seems he’d be more concerned about dealing with his Willie Horton moment right now.

UPDATE: Here’s why The Humble Libertarian doesn’t heart the Huckster.

Cargo Cult Science and the State

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing.But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition. » Read more

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

The Blind Leading The Blind

Now, as we’ve all been taught for many years, the free market is the tool of evil brutes, who’d just as soon toss your kids into a sweatshop (if not outright slavery) to produce products that are dangerous and deadly, and will collude amongst their fellow ruffians to ensure that consumers have no recourse to change. Our government, on the other hand, is full of sweetness and light, and is the only possible thing protecting the masses of humanity from the fate those blackhearts in business would press on you.

Previous presidents, of course, understood that it was important to keep some of these nefarious characters around, preferably in ones cabinet where they can be closely monitored. The EEEVVVIIILLL Republican presidents, of course, gave them the position of “adviser”, while I’m sure the virtuous Democrats merely kept them around as “opposition research”.

Not Obama. He wants nothing to do with them whatsoever:

Obama's Cabinet

Ugh! Those dirty folks with their [cough]business[/cough] experience! Keep them away! They might tell us why reality will interfere with our 5 year plans!

What’s next, putting the fate of our automakers in the hands of a 31-year-old who’s never run even a lemonade stand? Oh, wait — he already did that.

Hat Tip: Nick Schulz @ AEI, via Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason

The War of the Whoppers

For some time, it looked like Republicans were more persuasive liars than their counterparts in DC. After all, they (with the assistance of Judith Miller and The New York Times) convinced a great deal of Americans that aluminum tubes had been intercepted which were to be used to create nuclear bombs. Visions of Islamic terrorists flooding across our southern border with truckloads of nukes provided the rest of the political support necessary for us to begin military operations in Iraq.

Of course, these so-called weapons of mass destruction were never found, which forced President Bush to state that he “fully understood that the intelligence was wrong, and [he was] just as disappointed as everybody else” about it.

Now it seems the Democrats have been caught with their pants down. Already dubbed ClimateGate, it seems that the data which has been used by the left to push for tighter environmental regulations is at least partially based on junk science — and they’ve been covering this up for some time.  It will take some time to determine the impact of the revelation of hacked e-mails and other files, but I’d expect to see at least a few reversals in environmental policy over the next few years.

Currently, the War of the Whoopers is playing out on another front: health care.  Megan McArdle has a pretty good take on the fecal matter being spewed by both sides. We’ll start with the red team:

  • This bill uses accounting gimmicks to front load the taxes and back load the spending, which is the only reason it’s deficit neutral over the ten year window.
  • The Democrats are refusing to let cuts to doctor payments stand, and also, doctors don’t get paid enough.
  • Millions of people are going to be added to Medicaid, which is a terrible program because providers don’t get paid enough.  Also, it would be too expensive to add people to Medicaid.
  • Medicare costs too much, and also, shouldn’t be cut.
  • The Republicans favor “real reform” which mostly seems to consist of liability caps.

Now for the blues:

  • Insurance companies are evil institutions which deny everyone any care that costs more than a pack of Freedent gum.  Also, they cannot control health care costs without substantial government intervention, because they spend far too much on expensive procedures.
  • Ted Kennedy sure was a swell guy, wasn’t he?  He’d be proud of every dang one of us today.  (It is impossible to exaggerate how great a role this point played.  There was a five minute stretch which consisted largely of people telling Ted Kennedy’s replacement that Teddy would be awfully proud of him, and him saying, “No, really, Ted would be proud of you.”)
  • Small- and medium-sized businesses are groaning under the weight of their health care costs.  Also, starting next year, we’re going to force them to give you much more generous coverage from your employer, such as coverage for non-dependent “children” up to the age of 26.
  • This problem is incredibly urgent, which is why we have to pass this bill, which now takes effect in 2014, RIGHT NOW.

She covered it pretty well, but seemed to miss one piece of GOP excrement the left frequently observes: ties between Republicans and the health insurance industry.

I’ve made this point before and I’ll make it again: So long as the Republican leadership doesn’t try in earnest to remove the legislative ties between employment and health insurance, they are leaving themselves wide open to accusations of hypocrisy.

The Democrats are trying to convince the American public that they can increase regulations, insure everyone, and still cut costs without running up the deficit. And don’t forget President Obama’s pledge not to increase taxes. I’m sure even Joseph Goebbels would be impressed with this one.

But Republicans can’t say squat about deficit spending. To listen to the typical GOP incumbent on the campaign trail, deficit spending is some new evil Democratic invention. Although these Republicans voted for one bloated budget after another, somehow they are managing to convince the voters in their districts that they are the voice of fiscal responsibility.  I felt as if I needed hip waders at the last congressional town hall meeting I visited.

Troops are lined up on both sides of the battle line shooting outright lies and hurling bullshit grenades at each other.  It wouldn’t bother me if they fought to the last man and took each other out.  Of paramount concern, however, is that the American people are the ones suffering the collateral damage.

Conspiracy Theory Of The Day

Goldbugs have long-believed that central banks try to manipulate the price of gold, i.e. dumping gold onto the market at certain times to keep the price down, then slowly re-acquiring it after the spike passes, etc. But in an era where the goldbugs are predicting $2000/oz and higher (I’ve seen predictions of $5000/oz), I don’t think the central banks have enough gold in their vaults to blunt that rise — and even worse, if they made a concerted effort to dump it, that very signal would push prices through the roof. Even worse, it’s a prisoner’s dilemma. The central banks are helped if they all dump the gold, but if one goes rogue and starts buying it all up, it ruins the plan for all of them.

So no, the central banks can’t just dump their gold onto the market. Yet they have serious fears that the public senses the inflationary forces in the world and are looking for a hedge. And they REALLY don’t want the gold price to spike and fuel those fears.

So what if they created a scare in the gold market about purity? Instead of giving people trust in their own currencies, what if they tried to impugn trust in the ability to buy real gold?

The initial discovery was something like four gold bars, which the Hong Kong bankers drilled invasively to test the contents. Reminds me of drilling the earth and measuring how many grams of gold per tonne. The HK bankers hoped to have 99% gold yield in their drill program for the resident bars. They found something like 1% instead and 99% tungsten. By the way, tungsten sells for less than $70 per ton, which makes its swaps for gold to be 60x more profitable than silver bar swaps. Another handy usage for the Gold/Silver ratio in calculations. The hunt was on. Now not a single assayer on the planet is available, as all are tied up. They have been commissioned to test the gold bars shipped from the United States of Fraudulent Banker America in their own bullion vaults. They use basic methods of four drill holes with direct assay of shavings, but also less invasive methods like electro-magnetic waves to examine the metal lattice structure. When highest level methods are needed, they turn to mass spectrometry. NOW ALMOST NO GOLD BARS WILL LEAVE THE LONDON OR NEW YORK METALS EXCHANGES WITHOUT SOME AUTHENTICATION, AS DISTRUST IS WIDESPREAD.

Think, for a second, what a diabolical scheme this would be, if perpetrated by central banks.

In a move they can blame on simple counterfeiters (trying to pass off the tungsten as if it were gold at a huge profit), they can paralyze the entire gold market in a fear that if you buy gold, it won’t be real. They can try to destroy demand for gold in such a way that — if undiscovered — would never be traced to them. All this while keeping all their gold safely in their vaults and devaluing their fiat currencies.

Now, I’m not going to up and claim that such a scheme is being perpetrated. But would you put it past the central bankers, a group of people desperate to keep faith in their own fiat currencies — since faith is the only thing that backs them?

Kevin Drum Advocates Free Market In Healthcare?

He’s referencing an Indian doctor who offers low-cost open-heart surgeries, looking to build a new facility in the Caymans to serve the American market (emphasis added):

A few notes: Shetty runs a for-profit business, not a charity. He makes money at these prices. And although a big part of his lower prices has to do with the generally low cost of living in India, his mass-production techniques have reduced prices more than 50% even compared to other Indian hospitals.

But although this may be cheap medicine, there’s nothing cheap about his results: outcomes at his hospitals are at least as good as they are at the best American clinics, and probably even better. It’s the kind of thing someone ought to be trying here. The whole story is worth a read.

Well, Kevin, if we had a true free market for healthcare in the US, someone could try it. But it apparently hasn’t happened. So I’d ask a few simple questions:

If the problem with our healthcare, as you define it, is the insurance industry, why do you think it hasn’t been tried yet (as a way for them to lower costs)? As an advocate for single-payer, do you think it any more likely to be tried once the government takes over?

And please, show your work.

4 Years

Somewhere during the summer/fall of 2005, Eric started kicking around an idea with some of us on the old Life, Liberty, Property blog community. Many of us at our own personal blogs had risen to the level of Marauding Marsupial in Truth Laid Bear’s old tracking system, but Eric thought we could be a more effective force for liberty by pooling our resources. He started building The Liberty Papers, and invited a few of us (of the current contributors, that includes Chris, Doug, Kevin, Quincy and myself) to join his little experiment.

Well, today marks four years since the site began, and it’s been quite a ride since then. Some contributors have moved on, due to life intruding on blogging. We’ve expanded our rolls to replace them and try to expand our ideological coverage as well. And Eric, our founder, was put into the choice of taking a new job that would be wonderful for his family and career, but would mean he had to stop blogging. He turned the reins of the site over to me, and I’ve tried not to muck it up too badly.

In four years, we’ve written over 3500 posts, received over 31,000 comments, and we’re well on our way to 1.5M unique visits. We’ve had our successes, with Stephen Gordon breaking the DHS “domestic terrorist” report, attracting attention from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

All in all, I think we fit into a very nice space in the libertarian blogosphere. We hail from a wide range of disciplines, with nearly none of us in a position to call “political operative” an occupation rather than a hobby. We hail from such diverse fields as technology, law, and even music. We all share, though, a common fight — for the increase of liberty.

We’ve come a long way in four years, and I’m proud of the contributors who work to make this site great and thankful for all our readers who regularly comment here and make The Liberty Papers more than a broadsheet, but a conversation. I’m very happy with what this site has become — but I’m not sure I’m satisfied. My hope is that one year from today, we can mark our fifth year as a site bigger, stronger, and more active than its ever been.

Cory Maye to Have a Second Chance at Justice

With my busy work schedule as it is, I managed to miss the very encouraging news that Cory Maye will get a new trial!

I think it will be very interesting how his second trial unfolds now that he will have a better legal team with better expert witnesses to debunk the dubious testimony of the prosecution.

The prosecution isn’t showing any signs of dropping the charges; if anything they seem to be hell bent on keeping Maye behind bars:

“Certainly we disagree,” said District Attorney Hal Kittrell, adding that the attorney general’s office will seek a rehearing on the matter and will appeal, if necessary, to the state Supreme Court.

If the courts all agree that a new trial is necessary, there will be another trial because prosecutors believe Maye is guilty, he said. “We didn’t buy it (his self-defense claim), nor did a jury, so we’ll go back.”

For more background on the Cory Maye saga, here are some of my previous posts on the case posted here and elsewhere.

Reason.tv also did a great job telling Cory’s story (below).

Open Thread – Libertarian Response To Klingon Upbringing

Way back in 2006 (and prior to that at my old site), I raised a question of how a libertarian society deals with children. It’s well summarized from this comment:

If a parent believes in spanking, we don’t take the child away from the parents. If the parents are beating their children abusively, we do. There is a point at which the parent is a danger to the successful development of a child, and the child should not have to pay for the parent’s sins.

To a statist, there’s nothing inconsistent here. The state knows best, and when they believe you are over the line, they take your child. But to a libertarian, who doesn’t believe the state knows best, this is inconsistent.

Kids are pre-adults, and human beings with natural rights. It cannot be true that parents “own” their children, as slavery is incompatible with natural rights. But kids not being capable of fully exercising individual natural rights, it is parents who appoint themselves as “guardian” or “caretaker” of that child until he/she is old enough to take control of his/her own life. But where’s the line between stern and abusive parenting, and where’s the line between creative and unique upbringing and damaging your child by starting their lives under a fictional language only spoken on a TV show and amongst its most rabid fans:

Is this taking the whole Star Trek thing a teensie weensie bit too far? d’Armond Speers spoke only Klingon to his child for the first three years of its life.

Klingon? Not Spanish, French, Mandarin? Not some gutteral genuflecting concoction from the deepest recesses of Borneo? Klingon? You heard it right. (And if you don’t know about the Klingon Empire, look it up.)

“I was interested in the question of whether my son, going through his first language acquisition process, would acquire it like any human language,” Speers told the Minnesota Daily. “He was definitely starting to learn it.”

This case is made even more difficult in that this guy is not some guy living in his parents’ basement watching Star Trek all day, he has a doctorate in computational linguistics.

So two questions here:

1) At what point is it morally acceptable for a libertarian to interfere with a parent in the protection of a child?
2) Where does speaking to your kids in only Klingon until age 3 fall into that spectrum?

Hat Tip: Popehat

Quote Of The Day

Megan McArdle coins a new word:

That’s why I really wish the media wouldn’t act like, well, a bunch of elitist hooligans who are out to get her. I’ve coined a new phrase to cover the situation: Palinoia. It’s when you think people are out to get you, and then they do their best to justify your erroneous belief.

I like it… It boils the old aphorism, “Even paranoids have enemies”, into a nice single word…

Now if we can just get Ozzy & Black Sabbath back together to record “Palinoid”, and Stephen will have a new song for Liberty Rock Friday :-)

National Debt Tops $ 12,000,000,000,000

Just 247 days after topping $ 11 trillion and 414 days since passing the $ 10 trillion mark, America’s national debt is now above the eye-popping level of twelve trillion dollars:

It’s another record-high for the U.S. National Debt which today topped the $12-trillion mark. Divided evenly among the U.S. population, it amounts to $38,974.34 for every man, woman and child.

Technically, the debt hit the new high yesterday, but it was posted on the Treasury Department website just after 3:00 p.m. ET today. The exact calculation of the debt is a 16-digit tongue-twister and red-ink tsunami: $12,031,299,186,290.07

This latest milestone in the ever-rising journey of the National Debt comes less than eight months after it hit $11 trillion for the first time. The latest high-point is not unexpected, considering the federal deficit for the just-ended 2009 fiscal year hit an all-time high at $1.42-trillion – more than triple the previous year’s record high.

Much of the increase in the deficit and debt is attributed to government spending outpacing revenue – both exacerbated by the recession and the government response to it – including hundreds of billions in bailouts and stimulus spending and tax cuts along with decreased tax revenues due to rising unemployment.

In recent days, President Obama has spoken of the need to bring the rising deficit and debt under control.

“I intend to take serious steps to reduce America’s long-term deficit – because debt-driven growth cannot fuel America’s long-term prosperity,” he said in remarks prepared for delivery to the leader’s meeting last Sunday at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The National Debt has increased about $1.6 trillion on Mr. Obama’s watch, though less than $4.9 trillion run up during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Of course, Obama has only been in office ten months, not eight years.

Since Barack Obama took the Oath of Office, the national debt has increased from $ 10,626,877,048,913.08 to $ 12,031,299,186,290.07. That’s an increase of $ 1,404,422,137,376.99 over 302 days, or $ 4,650,404,428.40 per day, $ 193,766,851.18 per hour, $ 3,229,447.52 per minute, and $ 53,824.13 per second.

Anyone want to bet how long it will take to get to $ 13 trillion ?

My guess is August 15, 2010.

We are not a Democracy, we are a Republic

This is as succinct, and as masterful a description of the relationship between the rights of man, and the government of a free state, as I have yet seen.

“I cannot, and will not, consent that the majority of any republican State may, in any way, rightfully restrict the humblest citizen of the United States in the free exercise of any one of his natural rights,” which are “those rights common to all men, and to protect which, not to confer, all good governments are instituted.

John A. Bingham (Judge, Congressman, and the principal author of the 14th amendment)

As quoted in the Appellants brief in McDonald v. City of Chicago(my emphasis added).

All too often one hears men say ‘the constitution gives us the right” or even “the government gives us the right”.

This is simply false. Governments cannot confer rights on someone. Rights are those things that are common to all men. Those things that we have, and which cannot be taken away from us but by force, fraud, or willing consent.

Governments exist, for the sole purpose of protecting and furthering those rights; and no other.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Quote Of The Day

From the Mises Econ Blog, regarding Obama’s two most recent FTC nominees:

For those keeping score, with Brill and Ramirez the FTC will now consist of two law firm partners specializing in antitrust, one former state assistant attorney general for antitrust, a law professor who specialized in antitrust, and a former staff lawyer for the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee. If that’s not diversity, I don’t know what is.

I wonder what the FTC will place their focus on under this administration?

Bruce Bartlett, May Your Chains Set Lightly Upon You

Ezra Klein quotes approvingly from Bruce Bartlett’s new book, The New American Economy: The Failure Of Reaganomics And A New Way Forward:

The reality is that even before spending exploded to deal with the economic crisis, the government was set to grow by about 50 percent of GDP over the next generation just to pay for Social Security and Medicare benefits under current law. When the crunch comes and the need for a major increase in revenue becomes overwhelming, I expect that Republicans will refuse to participate in the process. If Democrats have to raise taxes with no bipartisan support, then they will have no choice but to cater to the demand of their party’s most liberal wing. This will mean higher rates on businesses and entrepreneurs, and soak-the-rich policies that would make Franklin D. Roosevelt blush.

Shorter: “Hey conservatives, you’ve completely and hopelessly lost the spending war. If you don’t play nice, you’re going to get even more screwed by the tax man than if you sit at the table.”

To which Samuel Adams might have responded: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom — go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!”

In short, Bruce Bartlett has surrendered. He has taken the view “posit a giant welfare state — now what’s the best way to pay for it?” He suggests that if conservatives try to set the menu at — as Billy Beck would call it — the cannibal pot, that MAYBE they’ll just lose an arm and not the leg to go along with it.

All in all, Bartlett’s view is probably the calmest and most peaceful answer. But it gives us a nation that is so unlike America that I’m not sure I want a part of it. The peaceful way out is to accept that Democracy has given us a giant welfare state, that Democracy is never going to rescind it, and that therefore we might as well pay for it. He’s taking Mencken’s quote at face value:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Bartlett is arguing that if we’re all to be slaves, it’s best to suck up and hope for the job of overseer, holding the whip rather than tasting its lash.

But I’m not ready to surrender.

Bruce Bartlett says that if we don’t find a way to pay for the monstrosity growing out of Washington, the whole system will come crashing down. I say I’d prefer that to the “success” of the system as the social democrats want it to exist.

Bruce Bartlett says that the “starve the beast” tactic doesn’t work, as the beast keeps on growing. Well consider me a cancerous tumor hoping to infect the populace into becoming an ever-growing resistance that eats away at the beast’s insides until it dies of rot.

Bruce Bartlett wants conservatives to make sure they have a seat at the table to divvy up the “spoils”. Well, if he wants to be a good little Tory, that’s his choice. He’s taken sides, and despite his pleas, the fight will rage on.

Somewhere deep inside, despite a century of statism trying to weaken it with bread and circuses, the spirit of America still exists. Until that’s no longer the case, I’ll take the side of Freedom.

Ayn Rand: The Fountainhead Of The Modern Libertarian Movement

atlas_02

There are few figures in the American libertarian movement that gave rise to as much controversy or passion as Ayn Rand. Love her or hate her, it’s hard to find a libertarian who doesn’t have an opinion about the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. For many of us, she was the one who lit the spark that sent us down the road toward becoming a libertarian. Even after her death, some still consider themselves hard-core Objectivists in the model of those who gravitated around the Nathanial Branden Institute in the 1960s. For most libertarians, though, while Rand is arguably the most influential moral philosopher, she is also someone who’s flaws, both personal and philosophical have been acknowledged, debated, and argued about for decades.

There’s always been a missing piece of the puzzle, though, and that was that nobody had really undertaken a full-scale intellectual biography of someone who, even today, can sell 200,000 copies a year of her 1,000+ page magnum opus. There were personal biographies by Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden, but those both seemed to concentrate on the more lurid details of Rand’s personal life and the circumstances behind the 1968 Objectivist Purge. The heirs of Rand’s estate, meanwhile, have guarded her papers closely in an obvious effort to protect her legacy and reputation. Someone wanting to learn more about Rand’s life, the development of her ideas, and her impact on American politics, had almost nowhere to go that wasn’t totally biased in one direction or the other.

That’s why Jennifer Burns’ Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right is so welcome.

Instead of dwelling on the lurid aspects of Rand’s affair with Nathaniel Branden, and without taking sides regarding the many controversies that followed Rand in years after Atlas Shrugged was published, Burns provides a thorough, well-written and well-researched survey of how Ayn Rand went from Alisa Rosenbaum of St. Petersburg, Russia, born just as Czarist Russia was beginning it’s decent into chaos, to Ayn Rand, the woman about whom more than one person has said “she changed my life.”

For people versed in the history of libertarian ideas, the most interest parts of the book will probably be Burns’s documentation of Rand’s interaction with the heavyweights of both the Pre World War II Right and the conservative/libertarian movement that began to take shape after the war ended. She corresponded with Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken and, most interestingly, developed a very close personal and intellectual relationship with Isabel Patterson, best known as the author of The God of the Machine. For years, especially during the time that Rand was writing The Fountainhead, Rand and Paterson exchanged ideas and debated philosophy, and it’s clear that they both contributed to the others ideas.

The Rand-Paterson relationship, though, also foreshadowed something that would happen all too frequently later in Rand’s career, the purge. Paterson was among the first libertarian-oriented writers to experience Rand’s wrath for the perception that she was not sufficiently orthodox. Over time, that would continue to the point where, at it’s height, Objectivism displayed a level of orthodoxy and denunciation of perceived heresy that rivaled the religions that it rejected. It was, in the end, the reason why the movement’s downfalls was largely inevitable.

Burns also goes into great detail discussing the process and the ordeal that Rand went through while writing both of her great novels. After reading that part, one marvels at the fact that she even survived.

In the final chapter, Burns shows that, even though Rand herself had flaws that led to the demise of Objectivism as a formal movement, her ideas have a staying power that has permeated throughout the conservative and libertarian movements in the United States. There is hardly a libertarian in the United States who has not read at least one of Rand’s books and, it’s clear that her ideas have taken hold in a way that she probably never expected and definitely would not have approved of. That, however, is the power of ideas, the creator can’t control what people do with them once they’re out there.

Burns does a wonderful job of filling in the missing pieces about Rand’s life and her place in the wider context of the political and social history of Post World War II America. Whether you love or hate Ayn Rand – and I don’t think you can have no opinion about her once exposed to her idea – this is a truly fascinating book.

Ludwig Von Mises Finally Getting Some Of The Respect He Deserves

von_mises

When Ludwig von Mises first arrived in the United States after escaping from Nazi Europe, and pretty much up until the present day, he was essentially ignored by the mainstream economics community in the United States. It was only through the assistance of American businessmen that he was able to get a job teaching at New York University, and, even then, the work he did had nothing to do with official university activities because he was, effectively, shunned for his uncompromising defense of the free-market.

Earlier this week in The Wall Street Journal, though, Mises is given credit for being one of the few economists in the 1920s to foresee the impending Great Depression:

Mises’s ideas on business cycles were spelled out in his 1912 tome “Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel” (“The Theory of Money and Credit”). Not surprisingly few people noticed, as it was published only in German and wasn’t exactly a beach read at that.

Taking his cue from David Hume and David Ricardo, Mises explained how the banking system was endowed with the singular ability to expand credit and with it the money supply, and how this was magnified by government intervention. Left alone, interest rates would adjust such that only the amount of credit would be used as is voluntarily supplied and demanded. But when credit is force-fed beyond that (call it a credit gavage), grotesque things start to happen.

Government-imposed expansion of bank credit distorts our “time preferences,” or our desire for saving versus consumption. Government-imposed interest rates artificially below rates demanded by savers leads to increased borrowing and capital investment beyond what savers will provide. This causes temporarily higher employment, wages and consumption.

Ordinarily, any random spikes in credit would be quickly absorbed by the system—the pricing errors corrected, the half-baked investments liquidated, like a supple tree yielding to the wind and then returning. But when the government holds rates artificially low in order to feed ever higher capital investment in otherwise unsound, unsustainable businesses, it creates the conditions for a crash. Everyone looks smart for a while, but eventually the whole monstrosity collapses under its own weight through a credit contraction or, worse, a banking collapse.

The system is dramatically susceptible to errors, both on the policy side and on the entrepreneurial side. Government expansion of credit takes a system otherwise capable of adjustment and resilience and transforms it into one with tremendous cyclical volatility.

(…)

We all know what happened next. Pretty much right out of Mises’s script, overleveraged banks (including Kreditanstalt) collapsed, businesses collapsed, employment collapsed. The brittle tree snapped. Following Mises’s logic, was this a failure of capitalism, or a failure of hubris?

Mises’s solution follows logically from his warnings. You can’t fix what’s broken by breaking it yet again. Stop the credit gavage. Stop inflating. Don’t encourage consumption, but rather encourage saving and the repayment of debt. Let all the lame businesses fail—no bailouts. (You see where I’m going with this.) The distortions must be removed or else the precipice from which the system will inevitably fall will simply grow higher and higher.

That was Mises’ argument in The Theory Of Money And Credit, but he did so much more than that. In Socialism, first published in 1921, Mises laid out in detail the reasons why the centrally planned economy of nations like the USSR could never produce a rational economy and were doomed to failure. He was, of course, proven right in that regard as we learned only twenty years ago. Mises’ magnum opus is Human Action: A Treatise on Economics and while it’s not easy reading it is well worth consuming for even the amateur student of economics.

Here’s hoping people will start taking Mises’ lessons to heart before we make the same mistakes all over again.

The Death of Language: Terrorist Edition

But the special function of certain Newspeak words, of which oldthink was one, was not so much to express meanings as to destroy them. These words, necessarily few in number, had had their meanings extended until they contained within themselves whole batteries of words which, as they were sufficiently covered by a single comprehensive term, could now be scrapped and forgotten. The greatest difficulty facing the compilers of the Newspeak Dictionary was not to invent new words, but, having invented them, to make sure what they meant: to make sure, that is to say, what ranges of words they cancelled by their existence.

George Orwell 1984

Today an email landed in my inbox sent by the Peter Schiff campaign. Breathlessly and self-importantly, it declared:

One week ago today, our new website was repeatedly attacked by cyber terrorists bent on slowing the progress of our campaign.

Cyber-terrorists?!?

What the hell? Saboteurs, perhaps, but terrorists?

Are people who launch denial of service attacks on a politician they disapprove of to be lumped in with people who massacre innocents in order to paralyze a population with fear?

One of the greatest dangers to liberty is that the ideas of freedom will die out and be forgotten. The 19th century had a rich tradition of freedom, including a powerful vocabulary of ideas, a vocabulary that contained numerous words for similar or related concepts, with different words used to express nuance with specificity.

Let’s for example consider people who use violent means for political action. Consider the words we have to choose from:

  • Activist,
  • Agitator,
  • Demonstrator,
  • Dissenter,
  • Dissident,
  • Insurgent,
  • Insurrectionist,
  • Malcontent,
  • Mutineer,
  • Objector
  • Protester,
  • Rebel,
  • Resister,
  • Revolutionary,
  • Saboteur,
  • Striker,
  • Terrorist,
  • Traitor,
  • Vandal,
  • Wrecker

These words all are related to each other. Yet they describe a wide range of people engaged in political action. Some terms describe people engaged in reprehensible acts, other describe people whom we view as being honorable.

In choosing to use the word ‘terrorist’ to describe the people launching DOS attacks on his website, Peter Schiff is falling for the linguistic Newspeak-like trap laid by the United States Government, which describes its enemies as terrorists so that an honest farmer trying to protect his opium crop is lumped in with pacifists holding prayer meetings an with men who make “snuff porn” movies by sawing the heads of living people in front of a camera.

We must defend our language as seriously and consciously as we defend our homes. For our civilization is dependent on language, and when different concepts are all subsumed together under a single word, we thinking with clarity and precision becomes more difficult, and communication becomes far more difficult.

For shame Mr Schiff… For shame.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Quote of the Day

“You see that’s the whole point of being the government. If you don’t like something, you simply make up a law that makes it illegal.” –Kenneth Brannagh in “Pirate Radio”

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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