The Libertarian Standard » Akiva http://libertarianstandard.com Property - Prosperity - Peace Tue, 28 Oct 2014 18:35:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 A new website and group blog of radical Austro-libertarians, shining the light of reason on truth and justice. The Libertarian Standard clean The Libertarian Standard thelibertarianstandard@gmail.com thelibertarianstandard@gmail.com (The Libertarian Standard) CC-BY Property - Prosperity - Peace libertarianism, anarchism, capitalism, free markets, liberty, private property, rights, Mises, Rothbard, Rand, antiwar, freedom The Libertarian Standard » Akiva http://libertarianstandard.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://libertarianstandard.com TV-G Salon’s Seven Misconceptions About Libertarianism http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/09/05/salons-seven-misconceptions-about-libertarianism/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/09/05/salons-seven-misconceptions-about-libertarianism/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 21:34:37 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13544 Lately it has become fashionable for political partisans to bash libertarianism. These “critiques” are vacuous and do nothing but demonstrate that the authors haven’t bothered to do basic research about what libertarians believe and why.

A recent example of this is Salon’s list of 7 strange libertarian ideas. Every single one misses the mark and requires only a limited response. More in depth information on these issues can easily be found with Google.

  1. “Parents should be allowed to let their children starve to death.”
  2. First off, most libertarians don’t actually think this. The issue is a strawman. Second off, even the people who believe that parents have no obligations to their children also believe that other people should be allowed to take custody of the neglected kids and care for them.

  3. “We must deregulate companies like Uber, even when they cheat.”
  4. Libertarians don’t think taxis should be regulated either. So the idea that it’s unfair that Uber isn’t regulated while taxis are cuts the other way for us. Nor does libertarian opposition to regulation imply approval of Uber interfering with Lyft’s business operations. Rather, libertarians think that violations of terms of service should be private and not state matters.

  5. “We should eliminate Social Security and Medicare.”
  6. These are massive transfers of wealth from the young and poor to the old and rich. We oppose them b/c we oppose intervention and wealth transfers (and the state in general). Of course the practical way of getting rid of them does it in a way that phases them out without leaving the poor who do depend on them hanging.

  7. “Society doesn’t have the right to enforce basic justice in public places of business.”
  8. We believe that people have the right to do what they want as long as it doesn’t involve using aggression against others. That doesn’t mean that we think racism is okay, it just means that we don’t think that a civilized response to racism is threatening to shoot the racist or to lock him in a cage against his will unless he does what we want.

    Furthermore the argument Salon gives is wrong and circular. Wrong b/c the constitution doesn’t apply to private citizens and so private acts of discrimination can’t be “unconstitutional” (and for most of the country’s history, the constitution was read as preventing this kind of legislation). Circular b/c you can’t say it’s “against federal law” when the argument is about whether such a federal law should exist in the first place.

  9. “Selflessness is vile.”
  10. Objectivists go out of their way to make it clear that they aren’t libertarians. This is one of the areas where they disagree with most of us. Furthermore, Objectivists oppose altruism as a philosophical principle, but that doesn’t mean that they oppose helping others. So in principle, they can support aid workers and organizations like Doctors Without Boarders; they just don’t think that you should support them out of a sense of obligation to others.

  11. “Democracy is unacceptable, especially since we began feeding poor people and allowing women to vote.”
  12. This isn’t really a libertarian issue. Salon brings it up because Peter Thiel wrote about it in a blog post on Cato’s website. And while Thiel may support libertarianism financially, that doesn’t make him libertarian. I’ve never seen Thiel admit to being an anarcho-capitalist. Instead I’ve seen him support a bunch of other approaches, many of which are discussed in the article Salon references.

    As for the claim itself, the idea that our kind of representative democracy is fundamentally flawed goes back to ancient Greece. (The Athenians wouldn’t even call what we have a democracy). Plenty of modern mainstream political scientists and public choice economists have written extensively about the structural problems with our democracy. It’s ludicrous to pretend that well known and documented problems don’t exist. It is similarly absurd to make it sound like someone is a racist or a misogynist for pointing out that all of these structural problems are exacerbated as the number of voters increases.

    Finally, in wrapping up its criticism of Thiel, Salon raises the strawman that the state created the internet. This is a popular myth. The internet was created by mergers between a bunch of large private networks. The government portion of the resulting network was relatively small. (IBM alone had more computers than the entire government network.) But even if the state did create the internet, that doesn’t obligate future generations to support the state. The British monarchy gave us the Magna Carta, but that doesn’t mean that we are obligated to stick with the government of medieval England for the rest of eternity.

  13. “We can replace death with libertarianism.”
  14. This has nothing whatsoever to do with libertarianism. Some people think that if economic growth goes far enough, we’ll have the technology to make immortality an affordable medical possibility. They happen to support libertarianism because they think that it will lead to the kind of economic growth this development needs.

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Religious Conduct of Commerce: Unwinding the Hobby Lobby Case http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/07/02/religious-conduct-of-commerce-unwinding-the-hobby-lobby-case/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/07/02/religious-conduct-of-commerce-unwinding-the-hobby-lobby-case/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 18:58:25 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13506 There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Hobby Lobby. The libertarian perspective has been discussed elsewhere, but what the Court actually did is not being described accurately despite the fact that they helpfully include a “syllabus” summarizing each ruling for the public. Apparently, some people, including many reporters, can’t be bothered to read even the summary. Therefore in the interest of clarity, I will try to give a brief overview of the case and of the majority’s reasoning in their decision. For the sake of brevity, citations are omitted because they can be found in the actual decision.

First some background. Contrary to what some people have claimed, objections to general laws on religious grounds do excuse you from having to follow them. This wasn’t always the case. In the early 90s, the Supreme Court ruled that “neutral, generally applicable laws may be applied to religious practices even when not supported by a compelling governmental interest” because allowing someone to object on the basis of religion to such laws “would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.” In response, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), overturning the Supreme Court’s decision and allowing challenges to neutral laws that burdened religious exercise. Under the RFRA, “[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The people affected by such a burden are entitled to exemption from the rule unless the government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person– (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Many people have said that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), i.e. “Obamacare”, requires employers’ group health plans to provide coverage of contraceptives. This is not correct. The ACA merely requires the plans to cover “preventive care and screenings” for women without “any cost sharing requirements.” Congress left it up to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to decide specifically what types of care this includes. When the HRSA issued regulations specifying what was required, they mandated that all FDA approved contraceptive methods be covered. They also provided for a religious exemption for religious organizations and non-profit religious corporations. Per the requirements of the RFRA, they apparently would also provide a similar exception to unincorporated for-profit businesses operating according to the owner’s religious principles. They did not provide an exception for incorporated for-profit businesses with corporate policies stating that the businesses would be run according to religious principles. Importantly, granting this exemption does not mean that the employees of these organizations will not have contraceptive coverage. Rather, it means that the insurance companies and ultimately the government will provide this coverage at no cost to the employer or the employees.

Now for the case. Because they were denied an exemption by the HRSA, three corporations, Conestoga, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel, sued under the RFRA claiming that the regulations requiring them to provide contraceptive coverage burdened their owners’ exercise of religion and consequently entitled the corporations to an exemption. Because the RFRA is a federal statute and the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage is merely a regulation, the statute takes precedence. Therefore, if it applies to these cases, the corporations are entitled to an exemption. Because Conestoga is located in Pennsylvania, their case went to the 3rd Circuit. Hobby Lobby and Mardel however are based in Oklahoma, and consequently their case went to the 10th Circuit. These two appellate courts reached opposite conclusions. The Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case to resolve the “circuit split” and ensure a uniform interpretation of the law.

Contrary to what has been widely reported, the central issue in the case was not about corporate personhood, but about whether a corporation can be said to “exercise religion” on behalf of its owners. As we have explained multiple times on this website, a corporation is merely a legal fiction, a type of short-hand that makes explaining the law easier. As justice Alito explained in the majority opinion:

[I]t is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations’ financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.

The government’s argument in the case was two-fold. First, business owners who chose to incorporate forfeited their 1st amendment protections under the RFRA and could no longer sue as individuals because incorporation made them legally separate from their businesses. Second, because the corporation itself has no religion to exercise, it cannot sue on behalf of the owners. Thus incorporation of a for-profit company implies that the free-exercise rights of the owners were forfeited. This would mean that owners would face a choice — either they could get the benefits of incorporation, or they could keep the protection granted by the RFRA. As the majority noted, adopting this rule would have widespread consequences. For example, it would mean that Orthodox Jewish store owners would be unable to sue claiming that mandatory Sunday closing laws violated their religious freedom.

Ultimately, the government was asking was for the Court to create a new legal distinction between individuals and non-profit corporations on the one hand and for-profit corporations on the other. The court considered multiple possible arguments for creating such a distinction, but found none of them persuasive in light of existing precedent. The distinction couldn’t be based on either the corporate form or the profit-making object because non-profit corporations and individuals operating as merchants are allowed to bring challenges. Nor could the issue be that for-profit corporations do not have a religious purpose because corporate law allows corporations to be formed for any lawful purpose. And for-profit corporations can and do pursue a multitude of alternative goals. In this particular case, all of the corporations involved had legally-binding policies requiring them to operate according to religious principles. Furthermore, a distinction between non-profits and for-profits would encounter practical problems. Many religious and charitable corporations are technically organized as for-profit corporations in order to be able to lobby and campaign for political candidates. And over half the states specifically allow for special dual-purpose corporations to accommodate such organizations.

Because they could not find a basis for making the distinction that the government wanted and because of the practical problems that such a distinction would create, the Court concluded that the RFRA protects the religious freedom of a corporation’s owners. Consequently, these three corporations were entitled to an exemption on the same basis that a religious non-profit would be.

It should be stressed that many of the issues that are being discussed by people commenting on this case were not decided. For example, the government did not contest the sincerity of the religious beliefs involved. But more importantly, and contrary to widespread misreporting, whether a corporation was a person for purposes of the RFRA was not at issue.

Personhood wasn’t an issue because there is a special law called the Dictionary Act that defines a host of legal terms used in other statutes. Because the RFRA protects “a person” but does not define the word “person”, the Dictionary Act’s definition of “person” is meant to apply. And under that Act, “corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies” are included in the meaning of “person”. Furthermore, the HRSA even conceded that the definition of “person” within the RFRA included non-profit corporations. And because no known legal definition of “person” includes some corporations but not others, for-profit corporations would also be protected. Therefore the case instead hinged on whether a for-profit corporation could be said to “exercise religion” on behalf of its owners. As discussed above, the idea that a corporation is a legal person is long-established fiction used to protect the rights of the people affiliated with the corporation. So, rather than being about some legally uncontroversial point, the case was about whether a person could exercise their religion via a corporation in the same way that they could exercise it via some other organization.

Hopefully this has shed some light on the case and will help foster constructive discussion about the issues involved.

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On the Austrian Theory of Money, a Reply to David Graeber http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/09/14/on-the-austrian-theory-of-money-a-reply-to-david-graeber/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/09/14/on-the-austrian-theory-of-money-a-reply-to-david-graeber/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2011 16:46:54 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=9094 David Graeber and Robert Murphy have been debating the validity of the monetary regression theory.  They seem to be talking past one another.  Graeber is assuming that Austrian theory agrees with neo-classical theory in areas where it does not, and Murphy is assuming that Graeber is substantially more familiar with Austrian ideas than he seems to be.  To clear up the confusion, we need to take a step back and start at the beginning.

Like all theoretical sciences, economics is concerned with the identification of invariants.  Austrian theory and the more mainstream neo-classical theory agree on this much, but strongly disagree on methodology.

Standard treatments of economics begin by attempting to model human decision making and then apply techniques inherited from classical mechanics to aggregate these individual decision functions into economic relationships.  As Graeber is no doubt aware, the conventional approach relies on the Von Neumann-Morgenstern utility theorem and its normative description of rational behavior.  (More recent approaches use cumulative prospect theory, but the differences need not concern us here.)

Austrians have long contended that this approach is untenable and unscientific.  First, any non-trivial economy is too highly dimensional and too non-linear to be analytically tractable.  Conventional economic theories rely on various idealizing simplifications.  Austrians contend that these idealizations render the results meaningless.  At a minimum, they assume away the very questions economics ought to focus on answering.  More importantly, the analogous physical theories rely on the studied system being linear time-invariant.  (Thus a physicist can model motion in the absence of friction because his answer will merely need a simple correction).  Real economies do not have this property; consequently, the standard idealizations do not produce approximately correct claims, they produce nonsense.

Second, Austrians do not think that economic theories should depend on decision theory.  Because no tractable theory of decision making can capture all the nuances of actual human beings, the “laws” identified by standard economics are not true invariants, they depend on an underlying decision theory that is known to be false.  And, again, because of the inherent complexity and non-linearities involved, we cannot even claim that these “laws” should be approximately correct, as far as we know, they can be arbitrarily wrong.

In the Austrian account, the economy cannot be explained by a series of differential equations modeling the impact of perfectly rational human decisions.  The economy is a complex adaptive system that emerges from the interactions of real human beings.  Barring the development of substantially better mathematical tools, we simply cannot make the kind of quantitatively precise statements made by other schools of thought.  At best we can make qualitative statements about the necessary properties of economic systems.

Thus far, Austrians seem to agree with Graeber:

[Conventional economics assumes] that human beings are rational, calculating exchangers seeking material advantage, and that therefore it is possible to construct a scientific field that studies such behavior. The problem is that the real world seems to contradict this assumption at every turn.

Austrians confront this problem head-on.  Human action is taken as a given; whatever the nature of the underlying decision process, Austrian claims will remain valid.  Instead of making a series of ludicrous idealizations, Austrians develop their theory by a series of thought experiments or, as Ludwig von Mises calls them, imaginary constructions.  Via these thought experiments, Austrians attempt to prove that certain properties of economic systems are logically necessary and thereby identify the invariants of economics.

Graeber believes that he has anthropological evidence disputing the conclusions of Austrian economics.  He is wrong on several counts.  First, he incorrectly assumes that economics does not account for the situations that have been observed.  Second, he relies on observations from economically primitive societies to refute claims only applicable to more developed economies.  Third, he assumes that by showing that a thought experiment is contrived, he has disproved the conclusions drawn from it.

For example, Graeber presents multiple examples of trade as it actually takes place in primitive societies and argues that these examples contradict the predictions of economic theory.  In fact, these examples are well known and explicitly accounted for:

Ethnology and history have provided us with interesting information concerning the beginning and the primitive patterns of interpersonal exchange. Some consider the custom of mutual giving and returning of presents and stipulating a certain return present in advance as a precursory pattern of interpersonal exchange. […]  However, to make presents in the expectation of being rewarded by the receiver’s return present or in order to acquire the favor of a man whose animosity could be disastrous, is already tantamount to interpersonal exchange.

Thus, far from falsifying the claims of economics, Graeber’s examples are actually cases of the very bartering that he wishes to prove did not take place.  (Economically, “barter” applies to all interpersonal exchanges that do not involve money; exactly what form the barter transactions take is an empirical question and beyond the reach of economic theory.)

Moreover, Graeber seems to believe that the Austrian account of money rules out the possibility of credit-bartering.  It does not.  The use of spot transactions to illustrate the nature of pre-monetary price formation is merely a descriptive convenience.  The arguments have nothing to say about credit because it is irrelevant to the thought experiment.  All that is required is that the transactions be “direct” exchanges (as opposed to “indirect,” i.e., monetary, exchanges):

The elementary theory of value and prices employs, apart from other imaginary constructions to be dealt with later, the construction of a market in which all transactions are performed in direct exchange.

Importantly, this construct is 1) imaginary and 2) very general.  A transaction in the economic sense is much broader than formal haggling between merchants; mutual gifting and other such examples are deliberately included.  This imaginary construction is made in full and complete awareness of the fact that true economic calculation requires money; “money prices are the only vehicle of economic calculation.”  In the Austrian account, money’s role as the enabler of economic calculation is paramount.

Turning to the theory of money in particular, economics does not claim that money is a universal phenomena.  Rather,

money presupposes an economic order in which production is based on division of labor and in which private property consists not only in goods of the first order (consumption goods), but also in goods of higher orders (production goods).

Thus economics actually predicts, in complete agreement with Graeber’s evidence, that his primitive tribes will not need or develop money.  Rather, the need for economic calculation, and thus money, will arise in situations like those he describes as existing in ancient Mesopotamia.  A band of a dozen or so people does not need money to make reasonable decisions between alternatives, but a massive temple complex with “thousands of people engaged in agriculture, industry, fishing, and herding” needs to measure inputs and outputs — it needs money.  The question is how money developed.

Once we have money, it is easy to see that it is valued because it can be used in exchange.  But if money is valuable today because it can be exchanged for things people want, this seems to lead to an infinite regress.  At some point there was no money, so how did we go from having no money to having a money that is valued almost exclusively because it can be used in exchange?

The Austrian explanation is that goods in a pre-monetary economy are not all equally marketable. “While there is only a limited and occasional demand for certain goods, that for others is more general and constant.”  People can either exchange directly (barter) or they can exchange indirectly (by trading what they have for something more marketable with the intention of using the more marketable good to acquire what they want).  Thus, even if a person doesn’t need something specific right now, he will be willing to trade his less marketable goods for goods that are more marketable because this will put him in a better position to get what he wants in the future.  This process creates a positive feedback loop — as more people trade less marketable goods for more marketable ones, the value of the more marketable ones is increasingly determined by the marketability itself instead of its original use-value.

In this way an economy sufficiently complex to need money can develop it.  The money will be a good that had preexisting exchange ratios with other economic goods (so that people can trade for it) and it will be a good that was initially relatively more marketable than the others (so that people will want to trade for it).

Graeber’s account of Mesopotamia supports these conclusions.  The economy was sufficiently complex to need money.  Silver had preexisting exchange ratios in the form of cultural understandings and credit arrangements.  It was highly marketable because of the demand by temple complexes and thus it emerged as money (and, hence, the unit of account).

In fact, it would seem that this logic is stronger in an economy dominated by credit transactions instead of spot ones.   Because the future is uncertain, lenders do not know for sure what they’ll need at the time of repayment.  Conversely, the borrower doesn’t know exactly what he’ll have in the future. Consequently, both of them are motivated to demand that repayment be in the form of a highly marketable commodity.  (Indeed, the collection rules for the Judean legal system are based on marketability.)

Thus, despite his claims to the contrary, Graeber has not disproved economics.

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On the Casey Anthony trial http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/07/14/on-the-casey-anthony-trial/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/07/14/on-the-casey-anthony-trial/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2011 14:36:18 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=8830 Had they charged her with the appropriate crime (negligent homicide), they probably would have won the case.  But apparently sending her to jail for many years wasn’t enough; they wanted her dead.  So, they went for murder despite having no proof of premeditation.  The judge should have dismissed the murder charge after the prosecution rested; that he didn’t is a travesty in itself.

There is absolutely no evidence for murder in this case, and anyone who thinks you should convict someone of a crime they didn’t commit because the state failed to charge them with a crime that they did doesn’t deserve to call themselves a libertarian.

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Continued confusion over the “rights” of corporations http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/04/12/continued-confusion-over-the-rights-of-corporations/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/04/12/continued-confusion-over-the-rights-of-corporations/#comments Tue, 12 Apr 2011 20:00:53 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=8351 Voters in Madison, Wisconsin recently approved a measure asserting that corporations do not have constitutional rights.

The measure correctly asserts that only individuals have rights.  But then it proceeds to state that corporations do not.  This is collectivism at its finest.  A corporation doesn’t act.  People act.  Although the “corporation” doesn’t have rights as an entity, each and every owner of the corporation does.  The owners exercise those rights by having agents (the management) act on their behalf.  When we speak of a corporation acting, this is merely an abstraction from the individuals involved.  As Stephan Kinsella has explained, corporations are nothing more than a series of contracts enabling a large number of people to work together toward common goals.

This resolution, though purporting to support individual rights, is in reality opposed to such rights because it claims that these rights somehow disappear when the individuals who have them choose to use them in a coordinated manner.

This confusion is sadly typical on the left.  For example, it is often said that there is some “right” to hold a protest rally because of “free speech”.  In reality, the organizers have no such right; the rights that let them hold the rally are the individual rights of all the participants to walk down the street, or go to a park, or otherwise use a public place without being harassed.  If thugs break up the protest, the thugs haven’t violated the rights of “protesters”, they have violated the individual rights of each person they harassed by assaulting, battering, and falsely imprisoning them.

The principles involved here are not unique to libertarianism; they are very fundamental legal principles.  Indeed, A.V. Dicey actually discusses this very point at length in his Law of the Constitution.  One of his many outstanding examples will suffice to illustrate the point:

Suppose group X is planning on holding a rally in a public park.  Group Y is opposed to group X and intends to use violence to stop them.  The residents near the park want to avoid a riot and thus all go stand in the park before the members of group X get there, thus blocking the members of group X from holding their rally.  If the protesters had some right, they could defend it with force and attack the residents, but since using force to remove someone from a place where they have right to be is unlawful, it cannot be that the law provides special protection to “protesters”.  Rather, the law protects the individual rights of every single person involved in the protest by making it unlawful to forcibly remove them.

Apparently, 21st century Americans have regressed to the point that even understanding “introductory” concepts about rights presents great difficulty.

 

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America’s Militarized Culture http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/02/21/americas-militarized-culture/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/02/21/americas-militarized-culture/#comments Mon, 21 Feb 2011 06:33:19 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=8093 A friend sent me Bob Murphy’s recent wall post:

Robert Murphy was flipping through the TV in the hotel room. On the History channel they were celebrating a sniper who apparently just broke the record for the longest kill shot. (He hit a Taliban guy from over a mile away.) They were interviewing him like he just won a hot dog eating contest. Regardless of your views on foreign policy, that is just sick.

My $.02:  Despite the paleo praise of “the white man” and his culture, the fact is that “white people” have been, are, and seem determined to be nothing but a bunch of self-aggrandizing barbarians. The military culture is the cause, not the effect here.  We are talking about a group of people that, for most of their history, saw nothing wrong with killing each other for sport.  This is just the latest incarnation of that “glorious” cultural tradition.

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To the Youth of Egypt: How Can We Help? http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/02/18/to-the-youth-of-egypt-how-can-we-help/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/02/18/to-the-youth-of-egypt-how-can-we-help/#comments Fri, 18 Feb 2011 22:50:06 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=8064 Here in America it has been difficult to get good reports about everything that is happening in Egypt. Every reporter has some agenda; they are more interested in making you fit their story, than making the story fit you. Still, even with the limited information available, I can see that what you managed to do is impressive.

Organizing non-violent protests to stand up to a brutal dictator takes courage. Bringing down a government supported by a super-power takes dedication. That you managed to do this without waging a war makes your success all the more admirable. You have given hope to the oppressed and energized the defenders of liberty in every nation. We are all inspired by your example: in the midst of the chaos, Muslims and Christians took turns protecting one another’s religious worship; in the absence of police, private citizens organized security to protect lives and property; when confronted by armed thugs, you held your ground in defense of liberty. For all that you have done, and for all that I hope you will achieve, I salute your bravery, integrity, and honor.

As you may know, many in the west are not as inspired or as hopeful. As Lew Rockwell highlighted, many hypocrites have questioned whether your commitment to liberty is sincere. Among those who believe in your desire for liberty, some doubt your willingness and ability to obtain it.

To those who say that Egypt has no national history, no culture of liberty, I can but laugh. Rule of law, the very cornerstone of liberty, what has been called the “distinctive characteristic of the English constitution,” is not a doctrine of European origin. This idea came to Europe when the Normans learned it from the Islamic rulers of Sicily. The common law of England, long celebrated for its protection of property and commerce, did not create these ideas anew. The crusaders left Europe a barbarian horde, they returned as civilized men. They had seen a wealthier, freer society first hand and would no longer tolerate the poverty and squalor of Europe. The legal institutions they learned paved the way for the commercial revolution that pulled Europe out of the dark ages and led to the flowering of western civilization.

Commentators who say that Egypt has no identity, no answers to its problems, reject history. Civilization was absent from Europe for centuries, and yet, civilization did return. Liberty has triumphed before and it can do so again.

Still, there is some truth to the skepticism. Most revolutions fail. The ink on the Treaty of Paris was not yet dry when many Americans set out to recreate a national government with more potential for abuse than the government they had just fought to escape. The storming of the Bastille gave way to the Reign of Terror. The Russian Revolution was widely supported by Russian Jews, but the government that emerged was hostile to Judaism beyond anything they had imagined. The American civil rights movement ended Jim Crow on paper, but white flight kept many schools just as segregated. Despite all that was accomplished, much was not. Blacks in America are disproportionately oppressed and victimized by the police. The government has adopted policies to systemically destroy their communities and trap the majority of their people in poverty.

Judging by the historic record, your odds of success are not good. Still, you are no worse off than anyone else who has tried to free themselves. In many ways you are better equipped than most. As I’m sure you are well aware, Egypt is suffering from an economic apartheid. Efforts to reform your economy were blocked in 2004. Perhaps now the reform will move forward. The constitutional amendments you are demanding are a start, but as you must know, unless you follow the lessons of England’s Glorious Revolution and systematically dismantle the institutions that abused and oppressed you, your new found freedom will not last.

The road ahead will be long and hard, and your failure would cause hope to give way to despair. What can we do to help? Please, have someone (or several someones) get in contact with the libertarian movement. At a minimum we can help you speak to America in your own words. In all likelihood, what we’ve learned in our struggle to preserve and restore liberty here can help restore liberty in your country. Let’s share what we’ve learned and see if there are other ways we can cooperate.

I wish you great success and look forward to hearing from you.

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Close the Washington Monument? http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/12/03/close-the-washington-monument/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/12/03/close-the-washington-monument/#comments Fri, 03 Dec 2010 19:56:35 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=7292 Bruce Schneier talks sensibly about how US politicians and others are over-reacting to “the terrorists.”  Countries with real terrorism problems haven’t had to adopt absurd “security measures” that trample civil rights.  Americans need to get a grip.

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eBook: Fifty Economic Fallacies Exposed http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/09/29/ebook-fifty-economic-fallacies-exposed/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/09/29/ebook-fifty-economic-fallacies-exposed/#comments Wed, 29 Sep 2010 20:54:36 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=6274 Understanding basic economics is crucial for all libertarians.  No other field offers as clear and irrefutable a case for liberty.  Indeed, statism draws much of its support from the public’s flawed understanding of economics.  Even libertarians are occasionally led astray by flawed economic reasoning.  A friend recently brought a book designed to combat such flaws to my attention:  Geoffrey E. Wood’s Fifty Economic Fallacies Exposed.

I haven’t read the entire book yet, but many people would benefit from the parts that I have.  In many ways, the book reminds me of George Reisman’s Government Against the Economy — a work that F.A. Hayek considered essential reading because he knew “no other place where the crucial issues [were] explained as clearly and convincingly.”

Short books like Fifty Economic Fallacies are great starting points for those who want to learn economics and are often outstanding educational outreach tools.  This book makes a solid addition to our growing arsenal.  With this book, Wood joins a long line economic popularizers from Bastiat to Hazlitt and beyond.

P.S. I strongly encourage readers interested gaining in more comprehensive economic understanding to consult Reisman’s Capitalism.

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Statism in the UK: Paychecks to be preprocessed by the state http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/09/20/statism-in-the-uk-paychecks-to-be-preprocessed-by-the-state/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/09/20/statism-in-the-uk-paychecks-to-be-preprocessed-by-the-state/#comments Mon, 20 Sep 2010 19:35:55 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=5987 Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, stressing “the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid”, has proposed to modernize the UK’s income tax system.  Once employers provide payroll information in real-time, “it further proposes that employers hand over employee salaries to the government first.”

I’m sure that subjects of the Crown have nothing to fear.  The state can be trusted to process their paychecks promptly, correctly, and efficiently.  Only a crank would object to this modernization plan.  After all, everyone fondly remembers the Star Chamber that evolved out of a similar medieval program for keeping tabs on the Jews.  Since it worked out so well last time, how could anyone expect things to go wrong now?

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