Category Archives: Monetary Issues

Cost is NOT Price, and Neither Cost, nor Price, are Value

Prices Provide a Misleading Measure of Dollar Devaluation
Forbes Magazine Online – Keith Weiner

There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t know the dollar is falling. Everyone over 25 has stories of what prices were like, way back when (and younger people have heard them). I remember when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon, and my mom remembers when it was 20 cents.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledges the official objective to push the dollar down by 2 percent per year. This intention is behind the Fed’s ill-conceived loose money policy.

It’s important to measure each drop. This is not just to keep a scorecard on the Fed, but because a change in the dollar skews historical comparisons and distorts business decisions, like giving increases to workers and pensioners….

Read the whole piece, and then come back…

The thesis statement of the piece is correct, in that prices provide a misleading indicator of currency valuation (and that our weak dollar policy, as pursued by every administration since Bush 1 to some degree or another, is fundamentally wrong and destructive for that matter).

Unfortunately the author suggests that simply using a different price denomination and comparison (to gold) is a less misleading indicator… In this, he’s absolutely incorrect.

What you really want to compare is purchasing power parity (PPP) as measured by equivalent standard of living, expressed as a dollar cost in constant dollars normalized to average labor hour wage or compensation.

i.e. this item costs 5 minutes of average labor, this costs 8 hours, this costs 20 years; the cost to maintain this equivalent normalized standard of living across an aggregate population is 1940 hours of median labor wage etc… etc…

Note, this is NOT an expression of the fallacious labor theory of value, it is an explicit measure of purchasing power parity as actual cost, INCLUDING opportunity cost (in terms of time), not currency denomination.

The critical function isn’t price, and it isn’t wage… it’s cost, in this case expressed as a cost to value ratio as a normalized dollar (to make it easy to relate to wages and prices).

Cost is not price; it’s a totalized measure of inputs including resources, time, and opportunity.

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

FacebookGoogle+RedditStumbleUponEmailWordPressShare

Ron Paul: Bitcoin Skeptic

The virtual currency known as Bitcoin is beginning to become accepted by more and more businesses even beyond underground websites such as the recently shuttered Silkroad. Overstock.com is among the more ‘mainstream’ internet retailers to accept Bitcoin (Overstock.com sold $126k in merchandise in Bitcoin the first day of Bitcoin sales) and a few Las Vegas casinos have jumped on the bandwagon as well. No doubt there will be even more merchants participate in this experiment in 2014.

Many in the liberty movement are very bullish on what they believe is or will be an alternative to the dollar but there are a few notable skeptics within the movement. Among the high profile Bitcoin skeptics are Peter Schiff and Ron Paul.

Just over a month ago, Ron Paul expressed his skepticism of Bitcoin in his weekly podcast (Episode #43).

I’m suspicious. I don’t fall into the category and say ‘Hey, this is it. This is the solution. This is going to replace the dollar.’

One time somebody quoted me in the media saying ‘I believe that Bitcoin was going to destroy the dollar’ and that’s not quite my position. But the Bitcoin could be a participant in a process where the dollar destroys itself…or that is the Federal Reserve policy destroys the dollar. Then people have to leave the dollar and go into something else.

Ron Paul went on to say that he believes Bitcoin (along with any other medium of exchange) should be legal currency for those who wish to accept it as such but wondered out loud why the government hasn’t cracked down on Bitcoin in a significant way.

The reason I’m hesitant to say ‘Hey, this Bitcoin sounds like the answer’ is that it’s hard for anybody who knows a lot more about Bitcoins than I do to tell me what it really is. If I had to, and you had never heard of gold as money I could show you a gold coin and you could put it in your hand and you could feel it and then we could look at some history. That’s not the case with Bitcoin.

[…]

But right now the Fed hasn’t come down hard on Bitcoin so you wonder what’s going on. Why haven’t they? Because I am absolutely convinced that the federal government and our central bank does not permit, will not permit competition in currencies. They’re not going to let you and I mint some gold coins and put them out in circulation. You can go to jail for that. […] It must not seem at the moment to be a threat to the Federal Reserve and to our system.

Paul also expressed some doubts that Bitcoin could become a preferred medium of exchange with a crash of the dollar:

This is why Bitcoin is around is to offer an alternative [to a weak dollar]. […] I’m a skeptic on that but I certainly think it’s fascinating. I try to keep up with it the best I can but I would feel much better having some gold coins in my pocket than a little computer that I can carry around and recover my Bitcoin. I wouldn’t feel very secure doing that.

However one feels about Bitcoin, I think it’s important that Ron Paul’s views on the subject be reported accurately. I’m personally intrigued by Bitcoin and hope it turns out to be everything its supporters hope but I do think some skepticism is warranted (for the reasons Paul gave and more). I certainly wouldn’t put all my eggs in the Bitcoin basket but I wouldn’t worry about a little experimentation.

A Simple Question About Motive

The Feds just arrested the owner of Silk Road, a black market web drug marketplace, and seized the domain name.

Now, there are obviously a lot of reasons why they’d want to catch this guy. But I was struck by the headline at the above linked article:

Feds arrest the alleged founder of Bitcoin’s largest drug market

It makes you wonder…

Is this about drugs, or is this about fighting Bitcoin?

Defunding and Debt Limits and Shutdowns Oh My!

Welcome to the sideshow folks…

Step right up and enjoy the posturing, rhetoric, and antics of our congressional clown crew…

Over to your right you’ll see the amazing vocal endurance of Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz as he tosses red meat to the base…

… To be serious, there are a large group of people, who don’t understand why the rest of us consider what Ted Cruz did (a 21 hour “filibuster” of a motion in relation to items within a continuing resolution for funding the federal government for the next six months), both harmful to the country, and nothing more than grandstanding.

For them, it looks like Cruz was (in the composite words of many Americans on the right):

“Taking a brave and principled stand against the funding of a bad law that will harm our country.”

In reality, he was doing no such thing.

Cruz is being maligned by his own party because he was being a clown. This “filibuster” was nothing but a clown show.

It may be viscerally satisfying, but it’s idiotic. It will do absolutely NOTHING for the Republicans, of for those against Obamacare, except throw red meat to the stupider side of the base.

This is underpants gnomes strategy.

Step one: “Non-filibuster a piece of already passed legislation that I can’t stop by doing this… but that’s OK I wasn’t really trying to, really I was just trying to get media attention and attract donations from the less intelligent and aware side of my political base”.

Step two: … uh….

Step three: Electoral Victory?

“But, one brave man, standing up for what he believes in, can do amazing things. A small group of patriots can change the world, just look at the American revolution.”

No, they can’t. No guns involved in this one. No big foreign war distracting the occupying power. No actual fight going on among the actual fighters… just a series of bargaining and trading; while the rhetorical fight goes on among the spectators.

It may be emotionally satisfying rhetoric, but that’s all it is, rhetoric.

You are not a member of the patriotic few, bravely standing up against the despotic elite, risking all for freedom.

In fact, unless you support drug legalization, getting the state out of marriage…and almost everything else… giving up legislating morality and goodness entirely… You AREN’T EVEN ON THE GOOD GUYS SIDE.

You’re just another guy on the badguys side, who wants the badguys to tax the tea a little differently.

Oh and as “just another guy”, you actually aren’t on their side at all…

You’re a spectator rooting for your team from… not even the stands… from the comfort of your own home; with the game streamed lived via satellite into your living room.

“But what would you have us do? Just give up, let the Democrats run the country into the ground”

Nope… Not at all…

I’d have you stop assuming the rhetorical mantle of revolutionary patriot because it makes you feel good; and stop supporting things which reinforce that feeling, without actually DOING anything.

If you buy Ted Cruz’s stunt, you are perpetuating this crap.

If you want to actually do something… ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING. Get involved with your political party on a local level. Get onto policy committees. Become a subject matter expert for the party on something you know, and use that position to help steer the party, and the politicians in the party, in the right direction.

That’s actually doing something. This thing with Cruz? It’s just something you can say you supported so you can feel morally vindicated while not actually doing anything.

“You’ll see… Cruz was right, this is bad law and we must stop it. Cruz will be vindicated, time will tell”

Well of COURSE he’s RIGHT, we all know that… it’s AWFUL law… even Jon Stewart thinks it’s bad law… but that doesn’t mean he was doing any good… or even try to for that matter.

Vindicated how?

Sure he’s increasing his own fundraising, and certainly he’s right about Obama care… but to be vindicated you have to have done or said something substantive, and then been proven right later.

How has he done that?

He’s hurt the Republican party badly with the center, and provided yet another target for mockery and ridicule… and to scare those who think this sort of thing is either stupid or crazy…

Yes, he’s increased his own fundraising… and tripled that of everyone on the left.

This is not some brave heroic last stand. This was a foregone conclusion. Obamacare would never, under any circumstances, be defunded. This wasn’t a filibuster. This wasn’t moral courage.

If it was a serious attempt to stop Obamacare, fine, that would be great. Even if it were a futile attempt, if it were even structurally capable of stopping it, sure… it wasn’t and isn’t.

It wasn’t really even a symbolic gesture.

It was pandering, to the lowest common denominator. It was Ted Cruz setting himself up to be the poster boy for the low information voters of the right.

And he knew EXACTLY what he was doing… By all accounts Cruz is a brilliant man.

“It doesn’t matter if he was doomed to fail, it was the right thing to do anyway. Standing up for what’s right is never wrong”

If that’s what he was actually doing, I wouldn’t be so irritated by this.

I’m irritated because this is what they do instead of something useful. “I supported Ted Cruz’s filibuster but those nasty democrats and RINOs passed it anyway”

The people who believe this, don’t seem to understand that what Cruz did actually hurt us. Us being those of us who really fight against government overreach, and bad law.

It gave cover to the people who wanted to do nothing anyway, it encouraged a few whackjobs to make spectacles of themselves, and it INCREASED the morale and assumed moral authority of the other side.

Do you not realize how stupid and ridiculous this makes anti-obamacare people to the middle? How hysterical it makes them appear to the other sides donors? How this is a permanent harmful soundbite/video clip?

It’s idiots like this that made them able to paint Mitt Romney as an ultraconservative ultra right damn near American Taliban…

When in fact, he wasn’t conservative enough for a lot of people to bother even coming out, and they just stayed home rather than vote.

This is NOT a dedicated small group of principled people fighting against government overreach… That would be excellent.

This is the Republican equivalent of a college student “sticking it to the man” by wearing Che Guevara t-shirt an shouting about oppression and justice, out in front of the admin building.

“You don’t understand… Cruz is different… he’s the only one of the Republicans with the guts and the principle to stand up and do something”.

If he had actually done that, I would more than agree… I’d be cheering him on too.

But he didn’t.

If he were actually different… I’d be 100% behind him… Hell, I think he’s a good man, and in general he will probably be a good senator, though it’s a bit early to tell. If nothing else, he’s a LOT smarter than most Senators.

But really… other than that… he’s not much different than any other professional politician.

I’ve read the mans bio, read some of his speeches, hell I was even on a conference call with him and Marco Rubio at some party event during the campaign last year.

Yeah, he’s accomplished, and he’s got a hell of a back story (great family tale), but… what is it you think makes him so special?

He’s a smart guy, apparently a great legal mind, clerked for Rehnquist, editor of the Harvard law review… which are great things sure… but but I don’t see what you seem to see that makes him particularly exceptional among senators. He’s been a politician basically since law school; either full or part time.

He spent less than a year in private practice before going into an administration job, then less than 4 years out of the fedgov, where he ran for office twice, before going back to the fedgov.

He’s a professional politician.

I think he’s probably going to be a good senator (kinda hard to tell 9 months in), but I don’t see anything there that says anything other than professional politician… He’s a smart man and seemingly a good man… and those are great things… but he’s still a professional politician, and has never been anything but a professional politician.

I mean… he actually voted… in fact the senate voted unanimously 100-0… for the motion he was supposedly filibustering…

How can you even call it a filibuster if you’re going to vote for it?

So… In the next show, we have the “Government Shutdown”.

As of right now, the Republicans in congress have refused to sign any continuing appropriations bills that require the raising of the U.S. federal debt ceiling, and which fund Obamacare.

Therefore, the Republicans are trying to pull a repeat of 1996 and “shut down the government”; again to foster the illusion that they are taking a principled stand against excess spending and government waste etc… etc…

They aren’t.

“Why can’t they just balance the budget, instead of raising the debt ceiling again… That’s not a solution, that’s just making the problem worse?”

That’s the question of a well meaning, intelligent person, looking at this problem from a rational perspective…

So it’s completely irrelevant to anything they do in Washington of course.

First thing, the whole “Defund Obamacare” spiel is, and always has been, a sham. It’s more redmeat for the base. It’s not going to stop Obamacare, never was going to, never could; and even if it could, the republicans couldn’t get it past the senate, or a presidential veto, or an override etc… etc…

It’s just PR.

The Republicans saw what happened to Mitt Romney. They know that a large portion of the electorate doesn’t think they’re conservative enough and so won’t bother to vote for them… This is how they’re trying to address that issue. Nothing more substantive than that.

This still leaves the debt ceiling issue… and of course, incurring yet more federal debt is a bad thing. We are already at more than 105% of GDP (of course, that’s far lower than most other nations, but it’s still quite bad).

However, since it is quite literally impossible for any continuing appropriation to be passed that doesn’t require increasing the debt ceiling… In fact, even without a continuing appropriation the debt ceiling will need to be increased (because of credit payments, entitlements, and other already legislated spending); the debt ceiling is GOING to be raised.

Either that, or an accounting trick will be used to do the same thing.

It’s not a solution. It’s a requirement of the circumstances.

Balancing the budget… that’s a joke; given that we haven’t actually PASSED a budget or OPERATED under a budget , since 1997. From 1998, the government hasn’t been funded with a passed budget, it’s been funded with omnibus spending and special appropropriation bills, and continuing resolutions.

In fact, since Obama was elected, we haven’t even managed to pass an omnibus spending bill, and have exclusively funded the government with special appropriations and continuing resolutions.

The reality of the “debt ceiling” is, the U.S. is NOT going to default on its credit payments, under any circumstances.

In the first place, a U.S. credit default would trigger a world wide economic collapse and long term depression the likes of which have not been dreamed of outside of dystopian fiction.

So yeah… that’s bad… let’s not do that.

Even if that weren’t true, the politicians in this country are not going to let people miss entitlement payments… which is the whole reason why we don’t have a budget in the first place…

Every politician in America knows that if they get blamed for their constituents missing a social security check, they are done… dead… never to be elected to anything, even dog catcher, again.

So, any threat not to raise the debt ceiling, or to have a true and complete government shutdown, really is just grandstanding.

Until we make serious cuts to entitlements, we are not going to have anything close to a balanced budget. No politician in this country who has actually managed to get elected and wants to be re-elected is going to EVER under any circumstances, vote to cut entitlements. Therefore we are never going to have a balanced budget again… or at least not until there is a real unavoidable crisis, where they can cover themselves by saying “we had to do it to save the country”, and their opponents can only look like irresponsible liars if they try to say otherwise…

Of course, if this country weren’t filled with economically and politically ignorant “citizens”, then perhaps the electorate as a whole would understand that we’ve long past the point at which such a crisis could be avoided, and that something really needs to be done right now…

Unfortunately, what looked like it was going to be the first major group of voters working for entitlement cuts in this country, the “tea party”; was quickly overrun by a huge number of these idiots who, completely un-self aware were saying, with complete sincerity “get the government out of healthcare and welfare… but don’t touch my social security and medicare”.

The politicians noticed this… Particularly the smart ones… Like, say, Ted Cruz.

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

Margaret Thatcher Defends her Record and Capitalism Itself

In marking the passing of one of the staunchest defenders of capitalism who held high office, I thought it would be appropriate to post this video of Margaret Thatcher in which she defended her record against her Labour Party critics. In this video, her political opponents thought the income gap grew too much under her leadership. Listen to her answer. This is the sort of unapologetic defence of capitalism we need in leadership on this side of the pond.

Another interesting part of this video was her warnings against the idea of a central European bank and currency. It seems that she was quite prescient given the problems of the Euro.

More Than One Class of Parasite

The welfare state is a problem in America, there’s no question about it. When you have a country were nearly 49 million people are dependent on food stamps as of this writing, that is a problem. We libertarians as well as conservatives lament the growing welfare state because of what it is doing to the economic health of this country and the negative incentives (i.e. the moral hazard) to discourage people from working when it’s easier to get a check from the government. That being said, I think we libertarians could do a better job with the messaging on this particular issue.

Today’s episode of the Neal Boortz show is a perfect example of what I’m referring to. Boortz’s personality is that of a curmudgeon. Over the years he has referred to himself as the “High Priest of the Church of the Painful Truth.” I usually enjoy his blunt, non-P.C. style but sometimes I think he goes a little overboard when he calls people who are on one type of welfare or another “parasites” regardless of their individual circumstances. I missed the first part of his show (which is normal) but I tuned in about the time a caller who said the only government assistance he was receiving was food stamps called in. He went on to explain that he worked 3 minimum wage jobs at about 120 hours a week to support his 5 kids (I think that was the right number). After explaining his circumstances, he asked Boortz: “Do you think that I am a parasite?” Boortz responded “yes.” Boortz went on to criticize the man for having children he couldn’t afford to support and told him that perhaps since he still couldn’t support his children on his three jobs that perhaps he should give them up.

Taking the caller’s word at face value that he works 120 hours a week, I have to disagree somewhat on Boortz’s characterization that the man is a parasite. I also think that telling someone who really is trying to support his children but still coming up short and supplementing his income with food stamps to give up his kids is an unreasonable suggestion. How much would it cost taxpayers if every person who struggled with supporting their children put their children in the foster care system or an orphanage? We hear all the time from conservatives – especially social conservatives* that the ideal situation for raising children is a household with a mother and a father. I have heard some social conservatives say that the reason the state shouldn’t recognize gay marriage or civil unions is that the purpose of marriage is procreation. They also argue for the child tax credit and favorable tax treatment for married couples to encourage more people to have families**.

I don’t know to what extent Boortz agrees with these notions as he doesn’t seem to talk about these issues much. I do think there is something to say about children growing up in a stable environment, however. I haven’t done much research at all about the foster care system but from what I understand, it’s far from ideal. How many children in the foster care system find themselves in the criminal justice system whether on probation or incarceration versus those who are raised by at least one loving biological parent? I don’t happen to know the answer but I suspect that there are more of the former than the latter. Again I ask, how much would this man giving up his children possibly cost the taxpayers? I suspect it would be more than whatever he is getting in food stamps.

To some degree***, this man is a parasite but certainly not to the extent some people I have met are. There are the single dads who have too many children to too many baby mamas who don’t take responsibility for their children and have no shame about going on the dole. There are also far too many single moms out there who have made some very bad choices who basically marry the government. If anything, the caller is probably receiving less government support because he is working so many hours. Slacking is rewarded while trying to better oneself is punished – this in of itself is a major part of the problem, I think.

While I agree with Boortz in principle that one man’s need does not mean he has a claim on another’s money, there are more classes of parasites I think are even more offensive than poor people on welfare. I am much more offended by the corporate welfare and the welfare for the rich. I’m not talking about tax cuts or anything like that but subsidies. I’m talking about billionaire sports franchise owners who have their stadiums built by taxpayer dollars so they can pay millions more to their millionaire athletes. I’m talking about TARP, the auto bailouts, QE 1, QE2, QE 3 and other policies the Federal Reserve has used to make our dollars worth less and less every day. I’m talking about corporate lobbyists who write regulations in their favor to make it difficult for competitors to enter the market place. I’m talking about lawyers.

Yes there are more than one class of parasite bringing our economy down. When it comes to going after those who are using taxpayer money for their benefit, I think it’s high time we libertarians say women and children last.

Point of Clarification: It wasn’t fair to lump all lawyers together as parasites. Lawyers are necessary in our system to take out some of the parasites I mentioned above (the white blood cells, if you will). Like any profession, there are bad apples. When I think of parasitic lawyers, I think of the likes of John Edwards and the ambulance chasers on late night TV. There are plenty of heroic lawyers who truly fight for liberty and justice such as those at the Institute for Justice and The Innocence Project. I’m sure we can count fellow Liberty Papers contributor Doug Mataconis among them as well (though I know nothing about his work as an attorney, he’s a good person and I’m sure that’s reflected in his profession as well).

» Read more

Ron Paul Will Never Be President But He HAS Made a Difference

Those who support the establishment of the Republican Party tend to be irritated that Ron Paul’s supporters kept trying to put his name up for nomination against Mitt Romney at the convention in Tampa even though Paul had no realistic chance of winning. Even very early in the campaign, establishment whores such as Hugh Hewitt were arguing that Ron Paul along with Herman Cain and Gary Johnson should be “exiled” from the debates because they didn’t have “a prayer of winning” the nomination. But are political campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, only about winning the nomination and ultimately, the presidency?

As someone who supported Ron Paul in the primary, I believed his winning the nomination would be the greatest upset in political history to say nothing about becoming the next president. When Terry Moran asked Paul the question: “When you lay your head on your pillow at night, do you see yourself in the Oval Office?” Paul replied “not really.” This is not a typical response of someone who is making a serious run for president.

This isn’t to say in any way that Ron Paul was not making a serious run for president, I think he was. Paul made three unsuccessful runs for the presidency but has succeeded in changing the political conversation. He advanced the ball in ways that he otherwise would not have had he not made these runs for the White House.

The most obvious example of how Paul has changed the political debate would be his call for a full audit of the Federal Reserve. As recently as 2006, the following was written about the Federal Reserve in a book by Richard Brookhiser entitled What Would the Founders Do (Our Questions, Their Answers)*

Everyone likes the Federal Reserve System these days, partly because it seems to work so well. (Not one person in a thousand ever thinks of it, a rough definition of working well.) But suspicion of public banks could revive at any time, for the same reasons that many of the founders were suspicious of them — most people (the founders included) do not understand banks or banking, and some bankers are in fact crooks. (p.92)

Back when this paragraph was written, I don’t think the Federal Reserve was even on my radar and I don’t think I was alone. Maybe the Fed isn’t the top issue for the average voter even now but I do think it’s safe to say more people are skeptical of the Fed especially in the era of bailouts and quantitative easing (i.e. printing money out of thin air). The mere mention of Ben Bernake or the Fed, especially at Ron Paul or liberty oriented rallies bring about boos and chants of “End the Fed!” “End the Fed!” This in of itself isn’t that big of a deal; these are true believers. What is a big deal, however; is that language to audit the Fed has made its way into the 2012 Republican Party Platform. Even more importantly, Paul’s Audit the Fed bill passed the House by an overwhelming 327-98 vote margin. Every single Republican but one supported the legislation along with 89 Democrats.

The bill wasn’t brought to a vote in the Senate but pressure will mount on Harry Reid if the Democrats maintain control to schedule a vote. If the Republicans take the Senate, a vote is even more likely to happen and Audit the Fed would be more likely to pass. If it gets to the president’s desk, the president – be it Obama or Romney will sign the bill, I believe.

A bipartisan bill authored by Ron Paul – who would have thought?

Ron Paul, one man who prior to the 2008 campaign wasn’t a household name, has changed the conversation within the G.O.P. concerning the Fed, spending, constitutional government, taxation, and civil liberties. Though his delegates were mistreated in Tampa, the RNC saw fit to at least try to mollify them with this tribute to the congressman’s career.

Missing from the tribute video was Paul’s anti-war/anti-interventionist views that he has espoused throughout his political career. Paul challenged people to do their own research concerning American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. He openly challenged the notion that policing the world trying to “make the world safe for democracy” and nation building was in America’s national security interest. Though the Neocons and war hawks are still firmly in control of the G.O.P., more voices in the party are challenging the prevailing view and cautioning Americans about blowback – a term invented by the C.I.A. but popularized by the Texas congressman.

Most important of all, Ron Paul is leaving a legacy behind him as he retires from congress. What will become of the rEVOLution in his absence? A small but growing number of individuals are being elected to the House and the Senate who share many of Paul’s small government/pro-liberty views. Ron Paul’s son Sen. Rand Paul along with Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Mark Kirk, Rep. Justin Amash among others will lead the movement into the future. If the Paul activists continue to fight the establishment from inside** the G.O.P., there is at least a chance that the party will actually live up to its more small government ideals it purports to stand for.

*Basic Books, New York.

**While I understand why some Paul supporters might be tempted to leave the party due to how they have been treated by the party establishment, I would advise against this. The G.O.P. is ripe for a hostile takeover BUT the establishment isn’t going to give up control so easy. If you drop out, you are allowing them to win; this is precisely what they want you to do. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Focus on the Senate, House, and races at the state and local levels and vote your conscience for president (the wonderful thing about voting is that you don’t have to tell anyone who you voted for). After this election, regroup and continue to fight for liberty.

The rEVOLution After Paul

With Congressman Ron Paul’s third presidential run and career coming to an end, what will become of his rEVOLution he inspired? Prior to the 2012 campaign, some suggested that former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson would be the “next” Ron Paul but with Johnson running as the Libertarian Party nominee after being mistreated by the GOP establishment in the primaries, it appears to me that that bridge has been burned and will likely never be rebuilt. Johnson’s activities in furthering the liberty movement will be done outside the Republican Party.

The new heir apparent to lead the rEVOLution appears to be the congressman’s son Sen. Rand Paul. Rand Paul has been one of a handful of voices of reason in the senate voting against renewing the Patriot Act, the NDAA*, standing up to the TSA, and speaking out against President Obama’s unconstitutional “kinetic military actions” in Libya and elsewhere to name a few. For the most part**, Sen. Rand Paul has been a consistent champion of liberty much like his father. Speculation abounds that Sen. Paul will make a presidential run of his own in 2016.

The rEVOLution and the greater liberty movement must be much larger than one person***, however. According to Brian Doherty, author of his new book Ron Paul’s rEVOLution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, Paul’s movement will continue long after Paul himself has left the political stage. Doherty summarizes the thesis of his book in the Cato forum (video below); David Boaz and Sen. Rand Paul also offer their thoughts on the future of the liberty movement after Ron Paul.


» Read more

Milton Friedman on Libertarianism and Humility

On August 14, 1990, Milton Friedman gave a speech at the International Society for Individual Liberty’s 5th World Libertarian Conference on the subject of libertarianism and humility. There are many adjectives which can be ascribed to libertarians but “humble” usually isn’t one of them. Among the quotable parts of the speech, Friedman said the following:

On the one hand, I regard the basic human value that underlies my own beliefs as tolerance based on humility. I have no right to coerce someone else because I cannot be sure that I am right and he is wrong. On the other hand, some of our heros…people who have, in fact, done the most to promote libertarian ideas, who have been enormously influential, have been highly intolerant as human beings and have justified their views, with which I largely agree, in ways that I regard as promoting intolerance.

In searching for the above transcription of what I thought was very profound and wise, I found a couple of bloggers who thought this particular quotation as “an inadequate defense of liberty” or one of the “failures” of Milton Friedman.

I happen to disagree with these notions.

Maybe because I have been humbled in realizing that I had been wrong on some issues of great importance. By far the most difficult (yet ultimately liberating) post I have ever written was the post in which I declared that I was wrong about my support for the war in Iraq. I was so certain that regime change in Iraq would bring about peace in the Middle East and freedom would take hold. I thought the Ron Paul and big “L” Libertarian position on preemptive war was naïve and dangerous but now I believe the opposite to be true (for reasons I stated in the aforementioned post).

Having experiencing this, I can’t help but think that Friedman was right to say that each of us should be open to the possibility we may be wrong. If we aren’t open to this possibility, what is the point of debating an issue? Obviously, if I argue that X is correct and my opponent says Y is correct, I’m going to do my best to convince my opponent that I am right and s/he is wrong (meanwhile, my opponent is doing the same).

But what if I realize in the course of the debate that my opponent is at least partially right about Y being correct and/or that my reasoning is flawed or the facts do not support X? As a normal human being, I might not concede right away but if I am being intellectually honest, I’ll revise my thinking based on new information or new reasoning I hadn’t considered.

If Milton Friedman was willing to be open to the possibility of being wrong, how could I, someone whose mind will never in the same league as his, be so stubborn?

One thing I notice in watching Friedman debate people who are diametrically opposed to his positions was how patient he was with them. Something that many of us libertarians seem to forget is that much of what we believe to be true is counterintuitive to at least half of the people we encounter on a daily basis because many of these people have not been exposed to our philosophy. Friedman understood this. He knew that much of what he was saying was new territory for many who would hear his lectures or read his books.

Before he could make the case about any of his ideas to others, he had to be satisfied that the facts backed up his theory. These two sentences from the NPR obituary for Friedman summed up his approach beautifully:

Friedman was an empiricist, whose theories emerged from his study of the evidence, not the other way around. He also was a champion of the free market and small government.

We are supposed to believe this to be a weakness? I find this to be so refreshing!

Walking Dead Economics

My wife and kids got me hooked on a series some of you may have heard of called The Walking Dead (and like the rest of the Walking Dead fans out there, I have to wait until October for the next season to begin as the characters have been left in quite a precarious situation) For those who haven’t heard of this series, basically Atlanta, GA (and as far as we know, the rest of the world) has been taken over by zombies (called “walkers” by most people who inhabit this world). While the series does have many of the elements of the zombie genre, the story and the characters in the story are quite a bit more complex.The story isn’t so much about the walkers as it is about the characters who not only have to survive this zombie apocalypse, but also manage to survive the other survivors and live with very limited resources.

One thing that becomes very clear at the beginning of this series is that many of the societal rules quickly go out the window when under constant threat of flesh eating walkers. Paper money is of no practical use (other than to start a fire perhaps). Debit cards and credit cards are even less valuable as there is no way to access your worthless money.

One other thing I noticed is that gold isn’t even a commodity that is of much use in this world.

It so happens that I have been reading Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover as my wife and I are trying to apply his system to get our financial house in order (I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get out of debt). In the book I ran across the following passage in which Ramsey explains why he does not believe gold is a good investment, even as a hedge against a total economic collapse:

It is important to remember that gold is not used when economies fail. History shows that when an economy completely collapses, the first thing that appears is a black-market barter system in which people trade items for other items or services. In a primitive culture, items of utility often become the medium of exchange, and the same is temporarily true in a failed economy. A skill, a pair of blue jeans, or a tank of gas becomes very valuable, but not gold coins or nuggets. Usually a new government rises from the ashes, and new paper money or coinage is established. Gold will, at best, play a minor role, and the gold investor will be left with the sick feeling that real estate, canned soup, or knowledge would have been a better hedge against a failing economy. – The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey (Thomas Nelson, 2003, 2007) p. 55.

I don’t know that I fully agree with Ramsey here though I’m by no means an expert on the history of gold or monetary policy. It seems to me that as a new civilization emerges from economic collapse, gold (and other commodities) would play a much greater role before people would accept any new fiat money. He seems to have a legitimate point, however; with regard to a collapsing or fully collapsed economy.

This is certainly the case in The Walking Dead. The resources most necessary to survive in this world are water, food, shelter, firearms, ammunition, medicine, fuel, spare parts, etc. Without these items, you aren’t going to survive for very long. Under these circumstances, who would trade a shotgun and ammunition for a bar of gold? I sure wouldn’t. I might trade a shotgun, assuming I already have enough firearms to hold the flesh eaters at bay, for some food and water. Better yet, I might offer to provide security for a few nights in exchange for food, water, and a temporary place to stay. This arrangement would continue as long as both parties agree.

In the course of the series, these are the kinds of arrangements that are worked out. Security is a major concern because, despite apparent efforts by the federal government to impose martial law, the government failed* and the law of the jungle is now in full effect. Many resources such as firearms, water, auto parts, food, fuel, etc. are scavenged from those who were either killed or simply abandoned their property (finders’ keepers).

Earlier in this season, the main characters find themselves at a dead end on the interstate as thousands of abandoned cars litter the road. Though on one hand this is very bad news, on the other, it’s an opportunity to scavenge whatever resources were left behind. At another point, a couple of the survivors make their way into an abandoned small town where they hit the jackpot in finding an abandoned pharmacy with a decent supply of prescription drugs. At the very end of this last season, the camera pans out to a prison near where the remaining surviving characters are camped out. What, if anything, can these refugees benefit from the prison? (I’m very interested to see where the story goes from here with the prison).

“What about silver bullets, do they have any value?” you ask. Silver bullets are needed to kill ware wolves, not walkers. Ware wolves? Seriously, ware wolves? Now that would be ridiculous.

*Or did it? Perhaps all the “important” people have been relocated to a secret and secure location while the citizens are left to fend for themselves.

Ron Paul at His Very Best Confronting Ben Bernake

If Rep. Ron Paul has accomplished anything in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns it would be the way he has educated the American public about monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. I’ve listened to on line lectures from the Cato Institute and read about monetary policy but more often than not its either over my head or bores me to tears. Paul manages translate the Fed’s policy and put into language people like me can understand and keep it interesting.

Today’s hearing where Paul questioned Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake is a case-in-point. My favorite part is when he asks Bernake if he does his own grocery shopping driving home the point about how his inflationary policies impact average people where it matters most (cost of groceries and fuel doesn’t go into determining the rate of inflation).

Book Review: Slackernomics, by Dale Franks

Those of you that have been around the libertarian blogosphere for any length of time will recognize the name Dale Franks. His main writing gig is over at QandO, where he spends the bulk of his time writing about the economy. In addition, he’s a bit of a gunblogger, and runs a separate blog for motorcycles.

At one point a few years ago I had noticed a link to a book Dale has written called Slackernomics: Basic Economics for People Who Think Economics is Boring. Given that I’m not the type who thinks economics is boring, but had enjoyed his blogging, I wanted to get a chance to read it. At that time, the book was only available in print at a price above $20. It took a spot on my “buy when I get around to it list”, and sat there for quite some time, but I never pulled the trigger. Then, more recently, it became avaiable for the Kindle at only $2.99 — I no longer had an excuse not to buy it. So onto the Kindle it went, and after several long months of sitting there taking up space, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

Slackernomics is a primer on basic economic theory that, as the title suggests, is written for people who think economics is boring. It’s written in a convivial tone, and the illustrative examples that Dale uses reminds one more of Freakonomics than of Adam Smith. Don’t let that fool you, though — the book is not a “sideshow” like Freakonomics — it gets to the heart of the matter. I liken it to be similar to Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in one Lesson”, but written for people who may not be interested in the more formal writing style of Hazlitt. In addition, having been written many decades after Hazlitt’s book, it’s obviously much more up to date.

The book covers everything from price theory, minimum wage & rent control to monetary theory and the business cycle, Keynesianism, taxes / deficit spending, savings & investment, and economic statistics. He continues with a great defense of free trade and a bit of entrance into politics (touching a tad on public choice theory). In all, for being a relatively short book, he hits all the major notes that anyone looking for an introduction to economic thought would need to learn.

But the big question, for readers of this blog, is whether it’s worth it to buy. “Am I going to learn anything new?” And I can honestly say that despite the fact that I read economic books & blogs for leisure, and that I’ve blogged a fair bit about economics myself, I learned some new things from Slackernomics. Dale’s fourth chapter, unwinding the mess of the myriad of economic reports and statistics he’s constantly posting on Twitter, Google+, and at QandO, was wonderful. I’ve looked at many of these reports merely reading analysts *reaction* to the numbers (Higher jobless claims? How unexpected!), but rarely understood which group (public or private) was putting out certain reports nor how they all fit together. For me, a layman who is conversant on a lot of economic theory but not as perhaps on the technical reports, I have never seen an explanation of the reports that come out each week and each month as simple and readable as that chapter. That was more than worth it for my $2.99.

So my recommendation is simple: at $2.99, if you have a Kindle (or a device with a Kindle app), it’s hard to pass it up. You’re almost assured to get your money’s worth from the book. Even further, if you know someone in high school or college that may not have received good schooling in economics (which is, unfortunately, most of them), and who isn’t exactly about to tackle The Wealth of Nations, find a way to get them a copy of Slackernomics. Dale’s writing style will keep them interested.

All in all, it’s a book that lives up to its title, and goes well beyond.

Peter Schiff to OWS: “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk”

Here’s a very fascinating video taken at New York’s Zuccotti Park where Peter Schiff has a dialogue with some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Schiff brought a sign that read “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk,” and talk they did.

One of the things that occurred to me watching this was how little true discussion is going on between the OWS movement and their critics. Notice how some of the protesters say things like “you rich people” or “you Republicans” etc. Just as its unfair for these protesters to lump everyone into these groups is a mistake, I think it’s also a mistake to assume that all of these protesters are clueless and don’t have some legitimate grievances.

Kudos to Peter Schiff for going out among the protesters and having this much needed conversation. There seems to be some common ground concerning these grievances; the real differences are what the solutions should be.

Gary Johnson and Ron Paul CPAC Speeches

The 2012 G.O.P. candidates each gave speeches at CPAC following the debates. Below are the speeches from Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. The first video is Johnson’s presentation before perhaps the largest audience he has had in awhile. Johnson spends a good part of his presentation introducing himself before giving an overview of his proposals. In the second video, Dr. Paul who is no stranger to CPAC, gets right into his prescriptions for fixing the economy and restoring lost liberty.

Ron Paul’s First 2012 Political Ad Warns Republicans to Avoid Repeating the Mistake of Trusting Democrats on Taxes and Spending

Can the Republicans trust Democrats and compromise by raising taxes in exchange for spending cuts in this debt ceiling debate? Ron Paul says “no” in his first 2012 political ad.

Why not trust Democrats? Ask former President George H.W. Bush what happened to him when he broke his infamous “Read my lips” promise that he wouldn’t raise taxes.

Hopefully, Republican’s will listen to Dr. No for a change, if only on this critical issue.

A Brief Constitutional Lesson for Congresscritters… Particularly those from Kentucky…

United States Constitution
Article 1, Section 7


All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

The issuance of debt is a revenue raising measure. The “debt ceiling” is, in fact, legislation initiated in the House of Representatives, which authorizes the executive branch to issue debt through the treasury (and by extension the federal reserve), up to a specific limit.

This “debt ceiling” and authorization of debt issuance; allows the executive branch to raise revenue in a constitutionally legitimate way; because the revenue is raised under the auspices of specific authorization by the house or representatives.

Neither the Senate, nor the House, acting separately or together; has the authority or ability to delegate this exclusive power of the house, to any other entity, including the president. In fact, it would be a clear violation of the principle of separation of powers to do so.

That is all.

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

The Inflation Won’t Come From The Fed

Everyone knows the Fed is pushing Quantitative Easing. By that, it means that when America is having trouble selling T-bills at advantageous interest rates, the Fed prints up some money to keep demand. It buys the bonds with newly-printed money. The recent run was $600B or so, and the Fed’s current balance sheet holds about $2.7T in assets (that they can choose to hold as long as they find prudent — since they print the money to keep them and/or roll them over).

But what if I told you that there was another $11T of outstanding US dollars* out there in the world, and that everyone except the US has a say in whether they are circulated. In fact, that those dollars are sitting on foreign soil is a very good thing for the US and has been for decades, but it’s not assured it will last forever. As I said WAAAY back in 2007:

As I’ve pointed out in the past, the dollar’s status as a reserve currency has largely allowed America to inflate with very little visible burden on our own citizens. We create worthless money, use it to buy durable goods from other countries, and watch as they hold that money or reinvest it in the sinkhole that are Treasury bonds. It’s a credit card on the world, and we can print whatever we need to pay it off…

…as long as they don’t wise up. If they do, suddenly that money might come back to us, and we’ll feel the results of the inflation we’ve engaged upon.

Inflation benefits those who see the money first — in this case, Americans who used that money to buy durable goods from overseas. It has the least benefit for those who see the money last. To date, that has been forex reserves, sovereign wealth funds, etc. But should those foreign nations decide they no longer want to hold US dollars, they’ll spend them right back into circulation — and they’ll eventually want us to sell them goods in exchange for those dollars.

If that happens, the inflation comes full circle and we feel it right here at home — without the Fed ever releasing the $2.7T they have on their balance sheet.

We’ve spent the last four decades, ever since Nixon “closed the gold window”, sending dollars abroad to other nations who stick them under their mattresses. This has been the persistent trade deficit we’ve held. Sure, some of those dollars came back to be lent to our own government to finance even MORE spending that didn’t come from the American people, but much of them quite literally got shoved under the mattress.

What happens if they want to spend those dollars? Well, dollar-denominated assets and goods produced in the US will rise in price. Oil, gold, silver, food (produced in the US), etc. Look at gold, for example: In the last year, gold has increased in dollar terms by over 32%, but by less than 8% in Swiss francs. USD vs other currencies show similar (but smaller) gaps. What can explain this? Well, if nothing else, that big buyers like China and India are using their dollar surplus, rather than their reserves in other currencies, to buy gold.

Where’s the endgame if this dollar-spending widens? Well, eventually those dollars are sold to people who don’t want to buy goods from China or US T-Bills: they want to buy US exports or US assets. That sounds good, of course; everyone likes exports! But is it good? Restate it this way: a durable good (i.e. product of American workers’ output) needs to be produced to leave our shores, and it increases the circulating money supply in the USA. The good we produce here is enjoyed elsewhere, while the increased money supply makes our own goods at home more expensive.

We change from trading our paper for other nations’ hard work to trading our hard work for our own paper back.

The endgame is the end of trade deficits, where we work harder as a nation to supply the rest of the world with goods in exchange for a lower standard of living here. That doesn’t sound good to me at all.

America has enjoyed a very privileged position in the world, and that position has only been possible from two things: other nations have trusted us and they’ve had no other options. The first is eroding to the point where they’re looking for the second. If we want to continue enjoying our position in the world, we need to convince the rest of the world that holding the US Dollar as a reserve currency benefits them — and neither trillion Dollar deficits as far as the eye can see or quantitative easing accomplish that.

When the inflation comes, it’s not going to be the Fed printing money — it’s going to be other nations sending us the money printed over four decades and expecting to buy something with it.
» Read more

Quote Of The Day

I posted yesterday about Bernard von Nothaus of the Liberty Dollar being convicted. I definitely think the fact support a guilty verdict on the charge of “issuing and passing Liberty Dollar coins intended for use as current money”, but some of the others seem quite a bit ridiculous, such as “conspiracy against the United States”. I think this was more fraudulent than conspiratorial…

…but it appears that the US Attorney doesn’t agree. She seems to think this is a lot more important than the rest of us… And what she says here [on the FBI press release, no less] is chilling:

“Attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism,” U.S. Attorney Tompkins said in announcing the verdict. “While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country,” she added. “We are determined to meet these threats through infiltration, disruption, and dismantling of organizations which seek to challenge the legitimacy of our democratic form of government.”

Really, Anne? Really? You’re going to throw around terms like “domestic terrorism” over this? For as much as I disagree with what von Nothaus was doing — profiting off of those who feel your fiat currency, backed by nothing more than a promise, is on the verge of a potential collapse — he wouldn’t have such a big market to sell to if the Fed wasn’t doing everything in its power to undermine the legitimacy of the US Dollar every day.

Every day the government’s inflationary policies erode the value of the US Dollar, stealing the wealth of people who have worked their butts off to earn those Dollars. While I think what von Nothaus was doing was fraudulent, I think I’m beginning to agree with those who have used the old adage to explain why you chose to go after him: “Don’t steal. The government hates competition.”

Liberty Dollar Founder Reportedly Convicted

Hard to believe it was over three years ago, but may of us in the libertarian movement will remember the seizure of the Liberty Dollar holdings/equipment/etc. For those new to the movement, the Liberty Dollar was a metal-backed currency presented as an alternative to traditional fiat currencies, but unlike Gold/Silver Eagles, or Krugerrands, or gold/silver bullion, was actually intended to be used and spent and traded as money in exchange for goods. It attracted the attention of libertarians and goldbugs, and earned a bit of national visibility when it set to release Ron Paul versions of one of the popular gold coins.

Let me state, first and foremost, that I am not a fan of the Federal Reserve, or of fiat money. I fully support the right of the people of the US to use and circulate alternative currencies. I enjoy the fact that some of those currencies would be backed by precious metals. But I incurred quite a firestorm of comments here after the raid, when I explained that I thought the government was right. While I support alternative currencies, and would love the Liberty Dollar to have been one, I claimed it was NOT an alternative currency:

A competing currency must not be interchangeable with FRN’s, which is the fiction that the Liberty Dollar creators try to uphold. Thus, the ALD becomes a method for them to sell silver at a profit while their associates or merchants work to defraud businesses by offering silver worth less (in FRN terms) for goods that are priced in FRN terms. At each level, it appears to have a cut of profit, as all multi-level marketing schemes do, and at the bottom of the scale, those who receive ALD’s as a “face value” equivalent to FRN’s are being shafted.

The Liberty Dollar does not seem to live up to what is bills itself as. If it were a true competing currency, merchants would price goods in ALD terms higher than in FRN terms, in order to receive identical value for their wares. If it were a true competing currency, the “exchange rate” between ALD’s and FRN’s would float, rather than be defined by the Liberty Dollar creators. I previously have written favorably about the Liberty Dollar, but given new information, I have changed my mind. It does not fit the bill of an alternative currency; it is a scam.

After three years of legal wrangling, it was announced today that the founder of the Liberty Dollar, Bernard von Nothaus, has been convicted on all four counts.

The crux of the government’s case rests pretty much on this, care of Coin World magazine [emphasis added]:

The federal government alleges that Von NotHaus, with three other defendants, worked together to violate the law by making Liberty Dollars the government characterizes as “coins” of silver “intended for use as current money” and “in resemblance of genuine coins of the United States …”

U.S. Assistant Prosecutor Craig Morenao, in opening statements, said the government would set out to prove that von NotHaus deliberately told people to give Liberty Dollars as change for Federal Reserve notes, in direct violation of laws that specifically prohibit the use of passing originally designed coins as current money.

It seems pretty clear that this is not counterfeiting in the *traditional* sense, where you try to copy the direct design. But given that everything I had seen from the website, marketing materials, etc suggested that the ALD should be spent at parity with federal reserve notes, and given to vendors in place of or given to consumers as change in place of federal reserve notes is problematic. Creating a currency to be spent alongside in competition with the US Dollar is one thing — creating a currency to be spent as a US Dollar equivalent is another.

I feel moderately bad for those who got sucked in to the Liberty Dollar system. But overall, I feel worse for anyone who would have the goal to create a *true* alternative currency, because the actions of Bernard von Nothaus have given the very concept a bad name, and imbued the idea of alternative currencies with fear of government prosecution. All this for what was just a scam to get rich fleecing people who distrust government fiat money.

Hat Tip: Reason

The Trillion-Dollar Zero-Cost Stimulus Program

Want to inject liquidity into the market, support American jobs, and do so without raiding the US Treasury or overheating the printing press? The answer is simple: get out of the way.

Now, some may say that’s a libertarian’s answer for everything. And they’d usually be right. But I’m not signing you up for a precipitous decline in federal revenue. I’m not resorting in protectionist and mercantilist policies destined to impoverish American consumers in favor of American exporters. All I’m asking — or relaying the request of Cisco CEO John Chambers and Oracle President Safra Catz, more accurately — is that the US Government make it easier to bring foreign profits back to our shores:

One trillion dollars is roughly the amount of earnings that American companies have in their foreign operations—and that they could repatriate to the United States. That money, in turn, could be invested in U.S. jobs, capital assets, research and development, and more.

But for U.S companies such repatriation of earnings carries a significant penalty: a federal tax of up to 35%. This means that U.S. companies can, without significant consequence, use their foreign earnings to invest in any country in the world—except here.

The U.S. government’s treatment of repatriated foreign earnings stands in marked contrast to the tax practices of almost every major developed economy, including Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Australia and Canada, to name a few. Companies headquartered in any of these countries can repatriate foreign earnings to their home countries at a tax rate of 0%-2%. That’s because those countries realize that choking off foreign capital from their economies is decidedly against their national interests.

By permitting companies to repatriate foreign earnings at a low tax rate—say, 5%—Congress and the president could create a privately funded stimulus of up to a trillion dollars. They could also raise up to $50 billion in federal tax revenue. That’s money the economy would not otherwise receive.

The tax picture described is very simple, and it makes American companies make some difficult decisions. A company with overseas profits and a need to reinvest can choose to invest them abroad or here in the US. Those overseas profits can be invested overseas with little or no tax penalty, or they can be invested here with significant tax penalty. The decision becomes simple. It is only smart to invest foreign profits in the US if it is investment that simply cannot be effectively done overseas, because the cost of repatriation is enormous. It’s a trade war, but it’s aiming the artillery inward, not outward.

Anyone who has read my work knows that I am not a fan of government subsidies. I personally think that American corporations and American workers can compete quite handsomely on the world market. We don’t need our government to actively help industry here; we have an educated workforce, developed infrastructure, stable institutions and a strong rule of law. We have everything we need to make it profitable for companies to invest here. We could have a country where overseas profits are re-invested in American workers and the US economy. What we have instead are government policies actively hostile to that end. All I ask is that those policies be rescinded.

America is seen worldwide as pro-business. In many cases, that is true, but certainly not in our corporate income tax system, as described by the Cato Institute here. Rather than being a low-tax laissez-faire bastion of capitalism, we have the highest corporate income tax rate in the developed world:

Reducing the taxes on repatriated profits can be done in a revenue-neutral way. All that is necessary is to choose a tax rate that will balance the tax revenue earned on repatriated earnings at the current rate with the expected revenue earned on the much larger base of repatriated earnings at a lower rate. Some foreign cash is undoubtedly repatriated; as I said there is incentive not to do so, but that incentive in not insurmountable. However, at a lower tax rate it makes sense for more companies to repatriate much larger sums, and I think a baseline rate of 5% as suggested by Chambers and Catz is a good starting point for discussion if remaining revenue-neutral is a goal.

There is up to a trillion dollars out there that could be injected into the US economy without raising the deficit, without spinning up the printing press, and which would go immediately to the entities who have the best ability to invest it in stimulative ways — companies who are already profitable. While many in Congress may not like the idea, as they have little control over how the money is spent, I think that’s a feature — not a bug.

While I’m not a protectionist, I think we should stop government policy designed to hurt American employment and help employment overseas. Of all the policies in which our government engages, one that actively stops capital from flowing into America from overseas seems rather idiotic.
» Read more

1 2 3 6