The Libertarian Standard » Corporatism 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 » Corporatism http://libertarianstandard.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://libertarianstandard.com/category/statism/corporatism/ TV-G When Evil Institutions Do Good Things: The FCC’s PTAR Law http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/06/12/when-evil-institutions-do-good-things-the-fccs-ptar-law/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/06/12/when-evil-institutions-do-good-things-the-fccs-ptar-law/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:55:55 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13490 StreetTV

In my Freeman article "TV’s Third Golden Age," the summary subtitle that the magazine chose was "Programming quality is inversely proportional to regulatory meddling." I couldn’t have said it better. But does that mean that everything the FCC does makes television worse?

All laws and regulations have unforeseen consequences. That usually means unintended damage, but there’s no law of history that says every unplanned outcome is pernicious.

If you’re an advocate of a free society — one in which all arrangements are voluntary and there is the least coercive interference from governments or other thugs — history will present you with an unending series of conundrums. Whom do you side with in the Protestant Reformation, for example? The Catholic Church banned books and tortured scholars, and their official structure is one of hierarchy and authority. Easy enemy, right? Clear-cut bad guy. But the Church had kept the State in check for centuries — and vice versa, permitting seeds of freedom to root and flourish in the gaps between power centers. Whereas the Protestant states tended to be more authoritarian than the Catholic ones, with Luther and Calvin (not to mention the Anglicans) advocating orthodoxy through force. There’s a reason all those Northern princes embraced the Reformation: they wanted a cozier partnership of church and state.

This is certainly not the history I was taught in my Protestant private schools.

Similarly, most of us were schooled to side with the Union in the Civil War, to see Lincoln as a savior and the Confederacy as pure evil. But as much as the war may have resulted, however accidentally, in emancipating slaves, it also obliterated civil liberties, centralized power, strengthened central banking and fiat currencies and — to borrow from Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s great book title — enslaved free men.

"Father Abraham," as the pietists called him after his assassination, was a tyrant whose primary goal was always what he actually achieved: central power over an involuntary union. Recasting this guy as an abolitionist hero is one of the many perverse legacies of America’s official history. But it’s a mistake to simply reverse the Establishment’s verdict and claim that the Confederacy was heroic. Plenty of Johnny Rebs were fighting a righteous battle against what they rightly deemed to be foreign invaders, but even if you ignore the little problem of the South’s "peculiar institution," the Confederate government was no more liberal than its Northern rival. "While the Civil War saw the triumph in the North of Republican neo-mercantilism,” writes Hummel, “it saw the emergence in the South of full-blown State socialism.”

Reading history without taking sides may fit some scholarly ideal (actually, it seems to be a journalistic ideal created by the Progressive Movement to masquerade their views as the only unbiased ones), but it is not a realistic option. We cannot do value-free history. If we try, we instead hide or repress our biases, which makes them a greater threat to intellectual integrity.

Neither can we say, "a plague on both their houses," and retreat to the realm of pure theory, libertarian or otherwise. We have to live in the real world, and even if we are not activists or revolutionaries, the same intellectual integrity that must reject "neutrality" also requires that we occasionally explore the question of second-best or least-evil options.

I remember several years ago, when my very libertarian boss surprised me by speaking in favor of increased regulation of banking. His point was that the banks were not free-market institutions; they were government-created cartels enjoying a political privilege that protected them from the consequences of the market while they surreptitiously depleted our property and spoiled the price system that drives all progress in the material world. Ideally, he’d want the government out of banking altogether, but in the meantime having them do less damage was better than letting them do more.

It may seem anticlimactic to follow the Reformation, Civil War, and fractional-reserve banking with a little-known FCC rule about TV programming from almost half a century ago, but I’ve been reading television history for a while now (1, 2, 3, 4) as illustrative of larger patterns in political history.

The Prime Time Access Rule (PTAR) was a law instituted in 1970 to limit the amount of network programming allowed during TV’s most-watched evening hours.

According to industry analyst Les Brown, the PTAR was adopted

to break the network monopoly over prime time, to open a new market for independent producers who complained of being at the mercy of three customers, to stimulate the creation of new program forms, and to give the stations the opportunity to do their most significant local programming in the choicest viewing hours. (Les Brown’s Encyclopedia of Television)

If you still accept the official myth that the airwaves are "That most public of possessions given into the trust of the networks," as Harlan Ellison describes them in The Glass Teat, and that the federal government’s job is to manage the radio spectrum in the best interests of that public, then I’m sure you don’t see any problem with PTAR. (You can read my paper "Radio Free Rothbard" [HTML, PDF] for a debunking of this official piety.)

But a libertarian could easily jerk his or her knee in the opposite direction. How dare the central government tell private station owners what they can and can’t air on their own stations, right?

The problem with such an ahistorical take on the issue is that broadcast television was a creature of the state from the beginning. Radio may have had a nascent free-market stage in its development, but television was a state-managed cartel from the word go.

So am I saying that PTAR was a good thing? Is it like the possibly beneficial banking regulations imposed on a cartelized banking system? Should we view CBS versus FCC as the same sort of balance-of-power game that Church and State played before the early modern period of European history?

Maybe, but that’s not why I find PTAR an interesting case for the liberty-minded historian. As is so often the case with laws and regulations, PTAR’s main legacy is in its unintended consequences.

"Despite the best of intentions," writes historian Gary Edgerton in The Columbia History of American Television, "the PTAR failed in almost every respect when it was implemented in the fall of 1971."

[P]ractically no local productions or any programming innovations whatsoever were inspired by the PTAR. In addition, any increase in independently produced programming was mainly restricted to the reworking of previously canceled network series, such as Edward Gaylord’s Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk’s The Lawrence Welk Show.… Rather than locally produced programming, these kinds of first-run syndicated shows dominated the 7 to 8 P.M. time slot.

This renaissance of recently purged rural programming was certainly not the FCC’s goal, but the creation of the first-run-syndication model is one of the great unsung events in media history.

A quick note on terminology: to the extent that I knew the word "syndication" at all when I was growing up, I took it to be a fancy way of saying "reruns." For example, Paramount, the studio that bought the rights to Star Trek after the series was cancelled, sold the right to rerun the program directly to individual TV stations. When a local TV station buys a program directly from the studio instead of through the network system, that’s called syndication. But syndication isn’t limited to reruns. Studios created first-run TV programs for direct sale to local stations as far back as the 1950s, but they were the exception. The dominant syndication model was and is reruns. But two events created a surge of first-run syndication: (1) PTAR, and (2) the rural purge I obliquely alluded to above.

I write about the rural purge here, but I’ll summarize: as the 1960s turned into the 1970s, television network executives did an about-face on their entire approach to programming. In the 1960s, each network tried to win the largest possible viewership by avoiding controversy and appealing to the lowest common denominator in public tastes. This meant ignoring the rift between races, between generations, and between urban and rural sensibilities — what we now call red-state and blue-state values — in the ongoing culture wars. This approach was dubbed LOP (Least Objectionable Program) theory.

Basically, this theory posits that viewers watch TV no matter what, usually choosing the least objectionable show available to them. Furthermore, it assumes a limited number of programming choices for audiences to pick from and implies that networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors care little about quality when producing and distributing shows. (Gary Edgerton, The Columbia History of American Television)

By the end of the decade, however, NBC vice president Paul Klein (who had christened LOP theory just as its tenure was coming to an end), convinced advertisers that they should stop caring so much about total viewership and focus instead on demographics, specifically the Baby Boomers — young, politically radicalized, and increasingly urban TV viewers — who were most likely to spend the most money on the most products. CBS was winning the battle for ratings, but Klein pointed out that their audience was made up of old folks and hicks, whereas NBC was capturing the viewership of the up-and-comers.

Klein may have worked for NBC, but it was CBS who took his message to heart, quite dramatically. In 1970, the network rocked the TV world by cancelling its most reliably popular shows: Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry RFD, Hee Haw, Lassie, and The Lawrence Welk Show.

In Television’s Second Gold Age, communications professor Robert J. Thompson writes,

CBS, in an effort to appeal to a younger audience made socially conscious by the turbulent 1960s, had dumped its hit rural comedies in the first years of the 1970s while their aging audiences were still placing them in Nielsen’s top twenty-five. Critics, who for the most part had loathed the likes of Petticoat Junction and Gomer Pyle, loved some of what replaced them.

I loved what replaced them, too: Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and the like. "Several members of Congress," Wikipedia informs us, "expressed displeasure at some of the replacement shows, many of which … were not particularly family-friendly." But that was the point: the networks were no longer aiming to please the whole family: just the most reliable consumers.

But despite capitalism’s cartoonish reputation for catering only to the bloated hump of the bell curve, that’s not how the market really works. It is how a cartel works, and the broadcast networks behaved accordingly, both before and after the rural purge. In the 1950s and ’60s, they aimed for the largest possible viewership and to hell with minorities of any sort. The demographic revolution changed the target, but not the tactic: aim for the big soft mass. That’s certainly how the big players would behave in a free market, too, but the telltale sign of freedom in the economy is that the big players aren’t the only players. Fortunes are made in niche markets, too, so long as there aren’t barriers to entering those niches. As I’ve said, TV is descended from radio, and Hoover and his corporatist cronies had arranged it so that there could only be a few big players.

That’s where we come back to the FCC’s Prime Time Access Rule of 1970. PTAR created a hole at the fringe of the prime-time schedule, just as the rural purge was creating a hole in the market. All those fans of Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk didn’t just go away, and they didn’t stop spending their money on advertised products, either. Before PTAR, the multitude of fans of "rural" programming would have had to settle for mid-afternoon reruns of their favorite shows (the way Star Trek fans haunted its late-night reruns around this same time). But the rural fans didn’t have to settle for reruns, and they didn’t have to settle for mid afternoons or late nights. They could watch new episodes of Hee Haw or Lawrence Welk at 7 PM. In fact, those two shows continued to produce new episodes and the local stations, which were no longer allowed to buy from the networks for the early evening hours, bought first-run syndicated shows instead. The Lawrence Welk Show, which had started in the early 1950s, continued for another decade, until Welk retired in the early ’80s. And the repeats continue to run on PBS today. Hee Haw, believe it or not, continued to produce original shows for syndication until 1992.

I loved Mary Tyler Moore, and I didn’t care so much for Lawrence Welk, but what I really love is peaceful diversity, which cannot exist in a winner-takes-all competition. The rise of first-run syndication was a profound crack in the winner-takes-all edifice of network programming.

The strategy CBS, NBC, and ABC had gravitated toward for short-term success — namely, targeting specific demographics with their programming — also sowed the seeds of change where the TV industry as a whole would eventually move well beyond its mass market model. Over the next decade, a whole host of technological, industrial, and programming innovations would usher in an era predicated on an entirely new niche-market philosophy that essentially turned the vast majority of broadcasters into narrowcasters. (Gary Edgerton, The Columbia History of American Television)

This idea of "narrowcasting" is the basis of quality in entertainment (and freedom in political economy, but that’s another story).

I’m not out to sing the praises of the FCC for increasing economic competition and cultural diversity — these consequences were entirely unintended — but we do have to recognize PTAR as a pebble in Goliath’s sandle, distracting him for a moment from David’s sling.

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/06/12/when-evil-institutions-do-good-things-the-fccs-ptar-law/feed/ 2
The Golden Age at Twilight http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/09/09/the-golden-age-at-twilight/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/09/09/the-golden-age-at-twilight/#comments Mon, 09 Sep 2013 13:12:12 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12657 Rod SerlingWhen I was in 5th grade, the teacher, Mr. Kelly, asked the class if anyone could tell him the definition of the word twilight. I raised my hand, excited to know the answer for once: “A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind — a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination…”

“You idiot!” interrupted Mr. Kelly. (Does the setting of New York City in the 1970s explain at all why the teacher talked to his pupils that way?) “That’s the Twilight Zone! — Twilight is the period between sunset and darkness…”

Oh, I thought. So that’s why the show is called the Twilight Zone. It’s an in-between thing.

I wonder if there are kids today who will some day tell a similar story — probably with a less ill-mannered teacher — where they answer the vocabulary question by stating that “twilight” is when high-school vampires are in love with teenage mortals.

When I was a kid, The Twilight Zone was the smartest television show I watched. And I watched a lot of TV. It had already been off the air for a decade, but so had most of my shows. I grew up in the 1970s watching the TV of the 1950s and ’60s on a portable black-and-white television set with antennas made of coat hangers and tinfoil.

I loved the plot twists, and I didn’t mind all the moralizing. Most of the television I watched was preachy — and kids are used to being preached at from all directions, not just their TV viewing — but unlike all the other shows I watched, The Twilight Zone dealt with mind-bending ideas, and its plots weren’t predictable, at least not to me. Each episode ended with a revelation, and I enjoyed trying to guess what it would be, though I seldom guessed right.

The critics had loved it from the beginning — well before the show became popular with viewers — and later critics ranked it as a high point in television history:

In 1997, the episodes “To Serve Man” and “It’s a Good Life” were respectively ranked at 11 and 31 on TV Guide‘s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.…

In 2002, The Twilight Zone was ranked No. 26 on TV Guide‘s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it as the third best written TV series ever. (Wikipedia)

The show’s creator, executive producer, and head writer, Rod Serling was one of the star television writers from the first “Golden Age of Television.”

His successful teleplays included Patterns (for Kraft Television Theater) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (for Playhouse 90), but constant changes and edits made by the networks and sponsors frustrated Serling. In Requiem for a Heavyweight, the line “Got a match?” had to be struck because the sponsor sold lighters; other programs had similar striking of words that might remind viewers of competitors to the sponsor, including one case in which the sponsor, Ford Motor Company, had the Chrysler Building removed from a picture of the New York City skyline. (Wikipedia, “The Twilight Zone”)

In the Golden Age of Television, sponsors not only attached their names to the TV shows they sponsored — Kraft Television Theater, Philco TV Playhouse, Goodyear TV Playhouse, The Alcoa Hour, The Voice of Firestone, The US Steel Hour — they developed shows, produced them, and paid the networks to put them on the air.

Television's Second Golden AgeRobert J. Thompson, a communications professor at Syracuse University, writes,

This arrangement led to some legendary stories of sponsor interference. Alcoa, manufacturers of aluminum, for example, would not let Reginald Rose set a tragic event in his episode of The Alcoa Hour in a trailer park, where most of the homes are made of aluminum. The Mars company, which sponsored Circus Boy, made it known to those making the show that they didn’t appreciate references in the program to ice cream, cookies, or other treats that competed with Mars’s candy products for the sweet tooth of America’s youth.

And for those of you who’ve read my earlier post “Who destroyed the first golden age of television?” take note of this one:

In “Judgment at Nuremberg,” an episode of Playhouse 90, about the trials of Nazi war criminals, a reference to “gas chambers” was deleted by the sponsor, the American Gas Association. (Television’s Second Gold Age)

Two years before Serling created The Twilight Zone, he wrote a long introduction to a paperback release of his historic teleplay Patterns. (“Many of the scripts for these [1950s TV] plays were collected and sold in book form,” writes Professor Thompson, “a distinction prime-time programs would not enjoy again for many years.”)

In his introduction, Serling reviews the history of television drama and his career in the medium, gives advice to young writers, and voices his regret about the medium’s dependence on commercial interruptions and busybody sponsors.

RodSerlingPatternsFor good or for bad, the television play must ride piggy-back on the commercial product. It serves primarily as the sugar to sweeten the usually unpalatable sales pitch. It’s the excuse to wangle and hold an audience.

Serling is clearly trying for a measured tone in that introduction. In Submitted for Your Approval, a documentary about his career released 20 years after his death, we get a more candid opinion:

How can you put out a meaningful drama when every fifteen minutes proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper?

Still, Serling understood that his career depended on the dancing rabbits:

A sponsor invests heavily in television as an organ of dissemination. That organ would wither away without his capital and without his support. In many ways he hinders its development and its refinement, but by his presence he guarantees its survival. (Patterns, introduction)

In addition to specific cuts and changes, the TV sponsors of the 1950s had informal rules limiting content. While Serling was already known as a writer of television drama, The Twilight Zone made him famous ever after for fantasy and science fiction. In his 1957 introduction to Patterns, you can already see him being pushed in that direction as a reaction to the sponsors’ fiats:

One of the edicts that comes down from the Mount Sinai of Advertisers Row is that at no time in a political drama must a speech or character be equated with an existing political party or current political problems.

Serling’s 1956 teleplay about the US Senate was gutted. Several million television viewers tuned in to his political drama “The Arena,” Serling writes, and

were treated to an incredible display on the floor of the United States Senate of groups of Senators shouting, gesticulating and talking in hieroglyphics about make-believe issues, using invented terminology, in a kind of prolonged, unbelievable double-talk.

“In retrospect,” Serling mused,

I probably would have had a much more adult play had I made it science fiction, put it in the year 2057, and peopled the Senate with robots. This would probably have been more reasonable and no less dramatically incisive.

Serling insists that he did not make trouble: “I’m considered to be a cooperative writer — even now. I don’t get my back up at requests for rewrites.” But he was known in the industry as the “angry young man of Hollywood,” and when he died of a heart attack at age 50, many newspapers “mentioned that he had been a heavy smoker for years and was angry and stressed most of his life” (Wikipedia).

But while he fought television executives and sponsors over what he unfortunately called “censorship” (see my post “censorship schmensorship” on why this label is misleading, at best), he fell short, in the 1950s at least, of proposing government intervention — or any other specific solution:

I don’t really believe there exists a “good” form of commercial. There are some that are less distasteful than others, but at best they’re intrusive.… I make reference to this by way of pointing out a basic weakness of the medium. I do not presume to suggest any antidotes or alternatives. At the moment none seems possible. (Patterns, introduction)

Sadly, by the ’60s, he was willing to call on the state. According to a 1964 article about Rod Serling and “TV censorship,” we learn that Serling

proposed that the Federal Communications Commission “pass muster” in some fashion on the quality of advertising in television. The FCC has never been a “strong arm of the government” because it was afraid of being accused of censorship, he said. (“Serling Rips TV Censorship,” Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, May 1, 1964)

Note the irony of his fighting the “censorship” of private editorial policies within the networks, then dismissing concerns about the real-deal coercive variety from the central government.

There’s another irony to Serling’s shift. You need to note the dates and know a little television history to catch it.

The television industry in which Rod Serling had established his name was dominated by sponsors — this was precisely Serling’s problem with it:

No dramatic art form should be dictated and controlled by men whose training and instincts are cut of an entirely different cloth. The fact remains that these gentlemen sell consumer goods, not an art form. (Submitted for Your Approval)

And yet the era of Serling’s ascendancy is now considered the Golden Age of Television and the TV drama of the era is recognized as an art form at its peak (until the present new golden age of television drama came to surpass it). According to television producer Sherwood Schwartz, the success of that earlier era resulted directly from its domination by the sponsors:

[T]he networks were conduits and they had no control of programming. Sponsors had more power, and the creative people who created the shows had more authority.

Professor Thompson indicates other benefits of the 1950s arrangement:

Television's Greatest Year: 1954[S]ingle sponsorship also had advantages. R.D. Heldenfels, TV critic and author of Television’s Greatest Year: 1954, points out that “Unlike the current system, where a terribly low-rated show is pulled after one or two telecasts, a single sponsor willing to wait for good numbers — or to settle for lower numbers because the show increased the sponsor’s prestige — could keep a show going.” Since networks made money as long as the show remained sponsored, the only reason for them to cancel a sponsored series was if the ratings were so low that they threatened to reduce the size of the potential audience for the next show on the schedule. Indeed, many companies were more concerned with prestige than they were with numbers. If not for prestige, why would a company like US Steel have sponsored an anthology? There were no raw US Steel products that a mass audience could buy over the counter and most viewers had no idea where the steel in their automobiles came from. It was even possible that a show would continue to be sponsored based on the tastes of a single executive or company owner. The classical music on The Voice of Firestone played for five years on NBC and another five on ABC to comparatively small audiences because the Firestone family was more concerned with attaching their name to a cultural show than they were with ratings.

Yet here was Serling in 1964, calling for a stronger hand from the FCC and pooh-poohing the idea that such intervention would constitute censorship — this just after the three-year reign of FCC chair and “culture czar” Newton Minow, who

gave networks authority and placed the power of programming in the hands of three network heads, who, for a long time, controlled everything coming into your living room. They eventually became the de facto producers of all prime-time programs by having creative control over writing, casting, and directing. (quoted by Russell Johnson, aka the “Professor,” Here on Gilligan’s Island)

In the famous “vast wasteland” speech before the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961, Minow told the television industry, “You must provide a wider range of choices, more diversity, more alternatives.”

“Yet,” according to University of Virginia professor Paul Cantor,

Minow’s speech resulted in centralizing power in the television industry and thus actually reducing the range of choices in programs.… [H]is words contained clear threats that if the television industry did not voluntarily do what he wanted, the FCC would make sure that it did. (Paul A. Cantor, “The Road to Cultural Serfdom: America’s First Television Czar” in Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism, edited by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.)

Rod Serling, the angry young man of Hollywood, clearly preferred the rule of the FCC to the rule of the American sponsors, and in 1964 — after three years under Newton Minow had radically changed the television landscape, and JFK-appointed FCC chair E. William Henry was still “fully committed to Minow’s agenda” (Thompson) — Serling all but advocated an even stronger hand from the federal government to limit commercial interruptions.

Is it possible that the sponsors were requiring ever more commercials in response to their dwindling power in the production end? After all, you don’t have to push Kraft-brand cheese slices as ardently when the anthology showing Rod Serling’s famous “Patterns” is called The Kraft Television Theater.

If that’s right, then Rod Serling is yet another example of the intervention spiral that Ludwig von Mises described: first you call for government intervention, then you fail to see that the intervention created the new problems you dislike, so you call for further intervention, and the cycle repeats.

So why wasn’t Serling afraid of implicit censorship from the FCC?

One unfortunate possibility is that Rod Serling was less vigilant about the FCC because Newton Minow’s agenda was better aligned with Serling’s own politics. Serling’s teleplays were antiwar well before antiwar sentiment took over a later generation. His stories also focused on questions of racial prejudice and sexual equality at a time when the sponsors considered the topics divisive and controversial. Recall that one of the edicts from “Advertisers Row” was that “at no time in a political drama must a speech or character be equated with an existing political party or current political problems.”

But in the early 1960s, the edict from Washington DC reversed the mandate.

Newton Minow was an appointee of the Kennedy administration. “His chief ‘qualification’ for the FCC job,” according to Paul Cantor, “was the fact that he was a personal friend of the president’s brother Robert Kennedy.”

Lacking any grasp of aesthetic criteria, Minow had to employ political criteria in his evaluation of television, and the industry responded accordingly.… [T]he changes in television content in the 1960s chiefly followed a political agenda — greater representation of minorities on shows, especially African-Americans; more dramas devoted to controversial political issues, displaying a deepened social conscience; in particular a number of shows dealing with the issue of civil rights, which not coincidentally was being promoted at the same time by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.… [T]elevision in the 1960s increasingly fell in line with the program of the Democratic Party. This is exactly what one might have predicted under the leadership of an activist FCC chairman appointed by a Democratic president. (Cantor)

If Rod Serling wanted to push the Democrats’ agenda, then pressure from the federal government for television networks to do exactly that may have felt less like oppression and more like freedom.

Serling may have welcomed the new era of the American culture czar. Minow certainly recognized Serling as a comrade in the crusade. In his speech to broadcasters, Minow had called television a “vast wasteland,” but he listed a handful of exceptions by name. Serling’s Twilight Zone was one of them.

The preachy tone I now hear in the show was a sign of the times. It felt familiar to me because I had grown up on 1960s television. I believe in tolerance and diversity largely because TV taught me to believe in tolerance and diversity. But over time, I came to believe that the tolerance of left-liberalism was a shallow tolerance, a tolerance only for certain forms of diversity — those that aren’t in conflict with the rest of the left-liberal agenda. That agenda was about more than cosmopolitan open-mindedness and acceptance of ethnic and cultural differences; it was about greater centralization of power, the need for coercive intervention, trust in certain elites, and a distrust of local values and local authority.

Serling may have seen a greater number of heroic, middle-class blacks and strong, smart women on television and believed that it was evidence that the medium was advancing. But did he also notice that the stories took fewer and fewer risks? Did he notice that the chorus of social consciousness could sing only one note?

He bridled against the sponsors’ mandate not to offend anyone and bemoaned the television writers’ practice of “pre-censoring,” by which he meant anticipating sponsor reaction and thereby avoiding any risks. And he was right that creativity requires risk-taking. In recent decades we’ve seen the cable-TV drama raised to the level of art precisely because commercial-free cable networks can afford to take chances that commercially supported broadcast networks just can’t.

But the strong arm of Kennedy liberalism, in the form of an activist FCC, drove risk-taking off the air and replaced it with homogeneity and blandness under the guidance of a fearful cartel of network heads who were willing to sing the administration’s preferred lyrics so that they could continue to sell soap. Rod Serling may have played a starring role in the golden age of television drama, but his agenda brought that age to an end.

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/09/09/the-golden-age-at-twilight/feed/ 0
Enoch was right (wing) http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/04/24/enoch-was-right-wing/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/04/24/enoch-was-right-wing/#comments Wed, 24 Apr 2013 14:43:14 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12448 Enoch PowellI have a fondness for Enoch Powell that I never could manage for Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps that’s because I was indoctrinated to hate Thatcher and had never heard of Powell before last Saturday, when Wikipedia noted the 45th anniversary of the so-called Rivers of Blood speech for which he is infamous.

Both Thatcher and Powell were British politicians. Both were Conservatives. (Powell eventually left the Conservative party, claiming that while he was a life-long Tory, there were good Tories in the Labour Party. I guess I don’t really understand Toryism.) Both Thatcher and Powell are targets of left-wing hatred and smeared as proto-fascists. (See Lawrence Reed on the recent anti-Thatcher hatefest in the UK.) And I suspect the British Left would have a hard time distinguishing either of them politically from libertarians. We’re all ultra right wing, radically free market, and anti progress, aren’t we?

Powell rose to political stardom at the same time he fell from political power. On April 20, 1968, he gave a speech criticizing the British government’s existing immigration laws and its proposed anti-discrimination legislation. Everywhere I’ve looked for information on this speech and the speechmaker, these two issues have been conflated, and yet to a libertarian they could not be more different.

Two issues:

  1. Immigration
  2. Discrimination

On one of these, Powell seems to be in accord with us. On the other, not so much.

Immigration

Calls for the state to control or limit immigration are antithetical to the libertarian goal of limiting or eliminating the state itself.

(Unplanned plug: at Invisible Order we just completed our second ebook for Reason magazine, and it happens to be apropos: Pro-Growth and Humane: A Reason Guide to Immigration Reform.)

Discrimination

On the other hand, any law that prohibits individuals from discriminating on any basis they choose is a violation of the fundamental rights of free association and free thought. This line from Powell’s speech, which one detractor called an “explosion of bigotry,” could not be more in accord with libertarian thinking:

The third element of the Conservative Party’s policy is that all who are in this country as citizens should be equal before the law and that there shall be no discrimination or difference made between them by public authority. As Mr. Heath has put it, we will have no “first-class citizens” and “second-class citizens”. This does not mean that the immigrant and his descendants should be elevated into a privileged or special class or that the citizen should be denied his right to discriminate in the management of his own affairs between one fellow citizen and another or that he should be subjected to inquisition as to his reasons and motives for behaving in one lawful manner rather than another.

What is not at all in accord with liberty is Powell’s suggestion that the British taxpayer provide “generous grants and assistance” to help immigrants leave the UK. (Paul McCartney apparently considered some Enoch-specific lyrics in the Beatles song “Get Back (to Where You Once Belonged)” but they didn’t make it into the final release.)

If Margaret Thatcher was the British Ronald Reagan (or vice versa), perhaps Enoch Powell was the British Pat Buchanan (or vice versa). Like Buchanan, Powell was an ultra-nationalist. Like Buchanan, he consistently took positions in opposition to the main party line of his country’s conservatives. Powell supported gay rights and opposed nuclear weapons, at least within Britain. He advocated the dismantling of the British Empire.

Unlike Buchanan, Powell often advocated for free-market positions, although he seems, like Buchanan, to have had a soft spot for economic nationalism (which consistently takes the form of protecting the nation’s producers at the expense of the nation’s consumers).

While writing this post, I thought I should double-check to see if Murray Rothbard had had anything to say about Enoch Powell back in the day. Here’s the Libertarian Forum on the British elections of 1974:

Decades of horrific British policies have created a rigid, stratified, and cartellized economy, a set of frozen power blocs integrated with Big Government: namely, Big Business and Big Labor. Even the most cautious and gradualist of English libertarians now admit that only a radical political change can save England. Enoch Powell is the only man on the horizon who could be the sparkplug for such a change. It is true, of course, that for libertarians Enoch Powell has many deficiencies. For one thing he is an admitted High Tory who believes in the divine right of kings; for another, his immigration policy is the reverse of libertarian. But on the critical issues in these parlous times: on checking the inflationary rise in the money supply, and on scuttling the disastrous price and wage controls, Powell is by far the soundest politician in Britain. A sweep of Enoch Powell into power would hardly be ideal, but it offers the best existing hope for British freedom and survival. (Libertarian Forum, March 1974Download PDF)

And 8 months later:

Amidst this turmoil, the most heartening sign is the rapid growth of libertarians and anarcho-capitalists in a country that only a few years ago had virtually no one even as "extreme" as Milton Friedman. The major libertarian group is centered around Pauline Russell, and includes businessmen, journalists, economists, and others ranging from anarcho-capitalists to neo-Randians to the Selsdon Group, the free-market ginger group within the Conservative Party. Most of this group is friendly with the notable Enoch Powell, who of all the politicians in England is the only one with both the knowledge and the will to stop the monetary inflation and to put through a free market program and an end to wage and price controls. Powell, himself, despite his Tory devotion to the monarchy (which is seconded even by many of the English anarcho-capitalists), has grown increasingly libertarian. The Powell forces were working on a gusty strategy for the then forthcoming October elections: voting Labour in order to smash the statist leadership of Edward Heath. (Libertarian Forum, November 1974Download PDF)

(Cross-posted at bkmarcus.com.)

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/04/24/enoch-was-right-wing/feed/ 0
Didn’t The Terrorists Win A While Back? http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/04/19/didnt-the-terrorists-win-a-while-back/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/04/19/didnt-the-terrorists-win-a-while-back/#comments Sat, 20 Apr 2013 03:49:22 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12434 I posted the paragraph below on my Facebook page and a long, sometimes contentious, debate broke out. We even had a resident of Boston and a policeman–two different people, by the way–chime in to attack my point of view. Given that it generated so much discussion in that venue, I figured I’d share it here as well.

Armored police vehicles. Tactical teams. Everyone under house arrest. Soldiers and/or other armed enforcers roaming the streets. House-to-house searches. We call it, “Terror in Boston!” In any one of the several places the U.S. has invaded and/or is currently deploying drones, they’d call it, “Tuesday.” Perspective. Stated differently, maybe the “terrorists” won a while back?

Even looking at it now, it strikes me as obvious and uncontroversial. Maybe I’ve spent too much time sniffing the glue of philosophical free thought?

…cross-posted at LRCBlog.

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/04/19/didnt-the-terrorists-win-a-while-back/feed/ 0
Finding affordable dentist like pulling teeth? http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/02/01/finding-affordable-dentist-like-pulling-teeth/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/02/01/finding-affordable-dentist-like-pulling-teeth/#comments Fri, 01 Feb 2013 15:27:18 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12328 It must be for some. And one man, 63-year-old Jose Santiago Delao of Texas, was willing to provide dental services on the cheap, despite not having a license. Eventually he landed on the authorities’ radar and was arrested following a complaint from a woman about a botched molar repair:

Delao admits he skirted the law, but isn’t remorseful.

“Jesus Christ didn’t need or didn’t have a license,” Jose Delao told Yahoo News during a jailhouse interview. “People hurt and they needed it. People didn’t have enough money to visit the regular dentist.”

Delao, a former dental lab technician, claims he couldn’t turn his back.

“It broke my heart,” he said, tapping his chest, “because I have the experience.”

But authorities say Delao, a native of Costa Rica, has never been a licensed dentist in Texas. If convicted, he could get two to 10 years in prison….

A survey of published news reports shows that as many as eight such underground dental clinics have been shutdown in the U.S. since last summer.

“I would clearly classify it as a problem,” said Dr. Frank Catalanotto, chair of the Department of Community Dentistry at the University of Florida. “It is potentially a big problem.”

I disagree that the problem is unlicensed dentistry. The problem is that there is obviously a market demand for low-cost dentistry that isn’t being met, probably because the barrier to entry in the field as a state-licensed dentist is so high, a barrier which licensed dentists have a vested interest in maintaining, as it protects their market share from would-be competitors like Delao. But people are far more likely to be uninsured for dental care than for medical care, or simply can’t afford to pay the high prices of mainstream dental work. Delao understood this and tried to meet the need, to his credit. He may have committed some crime (if, as the story reports, he did not let a patient leave when she wanted to), but trying to help people isn’t one of them.

(Cross-posted from A Thousand Cuts.)

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/02/01/finding-affordable-dentist-like-pulling-teeth/feed/ 18
Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, Part II: Confused on Copyright and Patent http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/10/21/ayn-rand-and-atlas-shrugged-part-ii-confused-on-copyright-and-patent/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/10/21/ayn-rand-and-atlas-shrugged-part-ii-confused-on-copyright-and-patent/#comments Sun, 21 Oct 2012 22:52:14 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=11844 Reports about the new movie Atlas Shrugged: Part II indicate that it highlights Ayn Rand’s deep confusion on the whole issue of intellectual property (IP)—e.g,. from my friend Jacob Huebert.  Stephanie Murphy mentions some of the IP confusion in the film in her recent PorcTherapy podcast (at around 1:05). And Chris Bassil, of Hamsterdam Economics, in Atlas Shrugged Part II: Hank Rearden Confuses his Principles, notes:

At one point, industrial steel magnate and metal manufacturer Hank Rearden is ordered by the state to sell his Rearden metal to them, which he has up until this point been refusing to do. He is also forced to sign away his rights to the metal, so that the state can distribute its procedure to other manufacturers and it can be universally produced. At this point, Rearden accuses the agent in his office of trying to take his patents from him.

This, to me, is a philosophically complicated position. Now, Ayn Rand, despite taking a position against the government in many cases, was a huge supporter of patents and intellectual property rights. As Stephan Kinsella has pointed out here, Rand endorsed them on a number of occasions:

Patents are the heart and core of property rights.

Intellectual property is the most important field of law.

Without getting into the larger points concerning intellectual property (which Stephan Kinsella covers well here, and which I discussed briefly in the Duke University Chronicle here), I think that Rearden’s position on this is a bit contradictory. He is indignant that the state would move to deprive him of his patents, thereby also depriving him of the fruits of his labors. But isn’t that what those patents do to others? Don’t they prevent others who develop similar products from bringing them to the market? It is true that, within the context of the film, Rearden plays a heroic producer who alone seems able to keep the steel industry afloat. But this glosses over the daily considerations of intellectual property laws, which are seldom enforced on such a genuine basis.

Furthermore, Rearden’s position seems to me to be a little bit disingenuous. After all, he opposes the state’s use of force. In fact, he constantly pushes state officials to actually endorse the use of force instead of merely allowing it to be implied. At the same time, however, his patents themselves rest on just such a threat. I see this as something of a double standard.

Of course, Rand might respond that the force backing Rearden’s patent is legitimate, since, in her view, patents are themselves legitimate derivations of individual property rights. I don’t agree with this either, but that would require a much more extensive blog post to cover. For now, see my article in the Chronicle on it, and Kinsella’s book, articles, YouTube videos, or even audiobooks available for free from the Mises Institute on iTunes U.

Overall, this is why I think that Ayn Rand’s work largely functions more as a gateway to discovery of free-market ideas rather than as a truly solid foundation for them. In my opinion, much of what Rand was right about is better said by others, and there was a lot that I don’t think she was right about, either.

And as Jeff Tucker notes in his recent comments on the movie:

Of course this gets us into the Randian view of IP, that great industrial ideas — appearing out of nowhere in the minds of a few — must somehow be assigned to owners and protected by government. And sure enough, patents and copyrights as property play a major role in Atlas II, as when Hank Reardon is blackmailed into assigning his patents as a gift to the government. It’s a scene that completely overlooks that these patents themselves were actually granted by government in the first place and would not exist in the free market.

In fact, for any viewer schooled in the role of patents today, this scene actually makes the viewer less sympathetic to Reardon. For a brief moment, he actually looks like a member of the monopolist class who is dependent on government favors. Not good. This scene reinforces for me my sense that the single biggest mistake Rand made was not in her ethics, economics, or religion but in her view that ideas are property and must receive government codification.

I haven’t seen either Part I or Part II yet of the movie versions of Atlas, but none of this is surprising to me, given Rand’s completely confused IP views. Some of these IP views are of course present in her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged and could be expected to leak into the films (at least the IP issue doesn’t dominate or ruin Atlas, like it does The Fountainhead, which basically glorifies IP terrorism).  Rand’s view of IP and rights was very confused. I have referred to it as libertarian “creationism” and have criticized it, as well as her confused view of the relationship between labor, ownership, homesteading, and production (see, e.g., most recently, my recenty speech Intellectual Nonsense: Fallacious Arguments for IP (Libertopia 2012), and various blog posts on these and related fallacies and confusions, e.g. Locke on IP; Mises, Rothbard, and Rand on Creation, Production, and ‘Rearranging’Rand on IP, Owning “Values”, and ‘Rearrangement Rights’Objectivist Law Prof Mossoff on Copyright; or, the Misuse of Labor, Value, and Creation Metaphors, and Hume on Intellectual Property and the Problematic “Labor” Metaphor.

IP is one of the worst things the state does to us (about #6, as I argue in Where does IP Rank Among the Worst State Laws?). To uphold it as legitimate is bad enough, but to say “Patents are the heart and core of property rights” or “Intellectual property is the most important field of law” is obscene, especially for a soi-disant champion of capitalism, individual rights, and the free market. And she had only a dim understanding of the actual workings of the actual IP system that she claimed was the basis for her entire system of property rights. I view this as inexcusable. As Rothbard wrote,

It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.

Likewise, Rand should not have run around promoting and jabbering about IP when she knew little about it. She gave the US Constitution wayy too much presumptive libertarian validity, which is probably one reason she was so pro-patent and copyright: the Constitution says it’s okay! This also explains why Rand initially favored eminent domain–because the Constitution implicitly authorized it (until around 1954, when Herb Cornuelle convinced her to oppose eminent domain). (I’ve been told this is indicated in Murray Rothbard’s correspondence, as I also noted in Ideas Are Free: The Case Against Intellectual Property.)

But as for her shallow understanding of the actual and evil IP law that the felt fit to endorse — as I mentioned in Ayn Rand Finally Right about the First-to-File US Patent System, Rand mistakenly assumed that under US patent law, the first inventor to file has priority over later filers, in the case of multiple independent inventors of the same idea. Then she bent into contortions trying to defend such an obviously unfair, and artificial and arbitrary, rule.

And the way IP rights play out in Atlas shows that she didn’t have any IP lawyer look at her drafts.

Por ejemplo: take a look at these excerpts from Atlas Shrugged (some bolded by me):

“What profits?” yelled Orren Boyle. “When did I ever make any profits? Nobody can accuse me of running a profit-making business! Just look at my balance sheet—and then look at the books of a certain competitor of mine, who’s got all the customers, all the raw materials, all the technical advantages and a monopoly on secret formulas—then tell me who’s the profiteer! [Rand, Ayn (2005-04-21). Atlas Shrugged: (Centennial Edition) (p. 535). Plume. Kindle Edition.]

“Point Three. All patents and copyrights, pertaining to any devices, inventions, formulas, processes and works of any nature whatsoever, shall be turned over to the nation as a patriotic emergency gift by means of Gift Certificates to be signed voluntarily by the owners of all such patents and copyrights. The Unification Board shall then license the use of such patents and copyrights to all applicants, equally and without discrimination, for the purpose of eliminating monopolistic practices, discarding obsolete products and making the best available to the whole nation. No trademarks, brand names or copyrighted titles shall be used. Every formerly patented product shall be known by a new name and sold by all manufacturers under the same name, such name to be selected by the Unification Board. All private trademarks and brand names are hereby abolished.

“Point Four. No new devices, inventions, products, or goods of any nature whatsoever, not now on the market, shall be produced, invented, manufactured or sold after the date of this directive. The Office of Patents and Copyrights is hereby suspended. [Rand, Ayn (2005-04-21). Atlas Shrugged: (Centennial Edition) (p. 538). Plume. Kindle Edition.]

Boyle did not catch the tone of mockery, and answered earnestly, “It destroys the blight of monopoly. It leads to the democratization of industry. It makes everything available to everybody. Now, for instance, at a time like this, when there’s such a desperate shortage of iron ore, is there any sense in my wasting money, labor and national resources on making old-fashioned steel, when there exists a much better metal that I could be making? A metal that everybody wants, but nobody can get. Now is that good economics or sound social efficiency or democratic justice? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to manufacture that metal and why shouldn’t the people get it when they need it? Just because of the private monopoly of one selfish individual? Should we sacrifice our rights to his personal interests?” “Skip it, brother,” said Fred Kinnan. “I’ve read it all in the same newspapers you did.” “I don’t like your attitude,” said Boyle, in a sudden tone of righteousness, with a look which, in a barroom, would have signified a prelude to a fist fight. He sat up straight, buttressed by the columns of paragraphs on yellow-tinged paper, which he was seeing in his mind: “At a time of crucial public need, are we to waste social effort on the manufacture of obsolete products? Are we to let the many remain in want while the few withhold from us the better products and methods available? Are we to be stopped by the superstition of patent rights?” “Is it not obvious that private industry is unable to cope with the present economic crisis? How long, for instance, are we going to put up with the disgraceful shortage of Rearden Metal? There is a crying public demand for it, which Rearden has failed to supply.” “When are we going to put an end to economic injustice and special privileges? Why should Rearden be the only one permitted to manufacture Rearden Metal?” [Rand, Ayn (2005-04-21). Atlas Shrugged: (Centennial Edition) (pp. 544-545). Plume. Kindle Edition.]

“I know,” said Mouch glumly. “That’s the point I wanted Thompson to help us out on. But I guess he can’t. We don’t actually have the legal power to seize the patents. Oh, there’s plenty of clauses in dozens of laws that can be stretched to cover it—almost, but not quite. Any tycoon who’d want to make a test case would have a very good chance to beat us. And we have to preserve a semblance of legality—or the populace won’t take it.” “Precisely,” said Dr. Ferris. “It’s extremely important to get those patents turned over to us voluntarily. Even if we had a law permitting outright nationalization, it would be much better to get them as a gift. We want to leave the people the illusion that they’re still preserving their private property rights. And most of them will play along. They’ll sign the Gift Certificates. Just raise a lot of noise about its being a patriotic duty and that anyone who refuses is a prince of greed, and they’ll sign. But—” He stopped. [Rand, Ayn (2005-04-21). Atlas Shrugged: (Centennial Edition) (p. 547). Plume. Kindle Edition.]

These passages illustrate Rand’s ignorance of the systems she thought were the heart and core of property rights.

For instance: she refers to the “Office of Patents and Copyrights.” But there is no such thing. Patent and copyright are both authorized by the Constitution, but they are not handled by a unified office. It is patent and trademark that are handled by the same agency, the US Patent and Trademark Office, which is an agency of the Dept. of Commerce, even though the Constitution does not authorize federal trademark law. Copyright law is handled by a separate agency, the Copyright Office, which is, bizarrely, part of the Library of Congress (bizarre to me, in that that what seems to be an executive agency is under the legislature).

Another mistake: in this scene, the state agents want to find a way to pressure patent and copyright holders to turn them over to the state. After all, “We don’t actually have the legal power to seize the patents.” But this is just false. Patents are just artificial monopoly privileges granted by the state; the states does not seize private property if it “takes them back.” Taking them “back” does not mean “licensing them” back to “all applicants,” but just doing away with these monopoly privilege grants in the first place. And the state does have the “legal power” to issue compulsory licenses, even now, to the patents that the state grants (see my posts Objectivist worried ObamaCare may weaken patent rightsPrice Controls, Antitrust, and PatentsPro-IP Libertarians Upset about FTC Poaching Patent Turf; also, When Antitrust and Patents Collide (Rambus v. FTC);Price Controls, Antitrust, and PatentsIntellectual Property and Economic Development; IP vs. AntitrustState Antitrust (anti-monopoly) law versus state IP (pro-monopoly) lawThe Schizo Feds: Patent Monopolies and the FTCThe Schizophrenic StateIntel v. AMD: More patent and antitrust waste). So why would the state agents need to make up an excuse to “seize” patents if only to re-license them to others? After all, the state grants these monopoly privileges, and it has the legislative authority to grant compulsory licenses. The whole premise of Rand’s scenario involving patents and Rearden’s metal and Points 3 and 4 of Mouch’s “Directive” makes no sense.

The passages in Atlas quoted above strongly imply that Rearden Metal is not protected by trade secret, but by patent. And that the only reason others cannot make Rearden Metal is that the state has granted to him a “private monoply” (a patent) on it. For Rand to say that the state’s withdrawal of the monopoly patent privilege, is some kind of taking of private property, shows how far she has strayed from libertarian principles.

Notice all this part:

No new devices, inventions, products, or goods of any nature whatsoever, not now on the market, shall be produced, invented, manufactured or sold after the date of this directive. The Office of Patents and Copyrights is hereby suspended.

This implies that without the state providing a patent and copyright office, there would be no more inventions, innovations. This the utilitarian aspect of Rand’s argument. And it is utterly without merit, as can be seen in various studies noted here.

[C4SIF cross-post]

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/10/21/ayn-rand-and-atlas-shrugged-part-ii-confused-on-copyright-and-patent/feed/ 9
When Will the Voters Learn? http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/10/19/when-will-the-voters-learn/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/10/19/when-will-the-voters-learn/#comments Fri, 19 Oct 2012 22:05:07 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=11826 Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” ~ Clay Shirky

You know the slavery Kool-Aid is working well when those who are oppressed petition their oppressors for more of that which helps keep them oppressed.

For instance, public education is a tool that was designed–specifically and directly–as a means of controlling the hoi polloi.  The educational system of compulsory public education championed by Horace Mann, chock-full of multiple-choice testing perfected by Frederick J. Kelly, feeding into statistical models based upon the work of (eugenicist) Sir Francis Galton, was (and is) designed to fulfill the need for employees who are primed and ready to inhabit factories where efficiency can be measured in ways developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor. (The fact that so few of such factories currently exist in America should also be telling, but that’s a different discussion.) Mann believed “universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.” The whole thing was designed to produce a seething throng of people ready to take orders, stand in line, ask few questions, and install bumpers all day–accepting the interminable boredom of such a life–while their over-lords made a ton of money.  Free and compulsory public education was never intended to create inquisitive, risk-taking, leaders. Or entrepreneurs and/or business owners.  Or frankly, owners of anything! Yet, people clamor that “education is a right” and “we need more funding for our schools” despite the inescapable fact that these same crap holes are doing their best at producing children incapable of independent thought and unable to read a book (or a blueprint), solve a simple mathematics problem, or devise a new strategy.  It’s damned sad, really.

A similar conclusion can be drawn regarding government job creation. Throughout the current election season, you’ll hear people clamoring that Obama will do all he can to create jobs while Romney won’t, or some such simplistic foolishness. Any president who claims to create jobs, uses tax dollars and government debt to pay people wages that are too high, for work that otherwise likely would not be done. In other words, the money is wasted on boondoggles. This action has at least two negative side-effects.  One, it takes money from those who produce it and gives it to someone else. (That’s the taxation piece.) That might sound good to the recipient unless he realizes that he is only getting the proverbial fish that feeds him for a day, if that long. Secondly, this stolen–they call it stimulus nowadays–money results in those at the top having more real income than the supposed beneficiaries of those government-created jobs. (That’s the inflation piece.) The people who think they benefit from the government-created-jobs are worse off in the long term, despite all appearances to the contrary in the short term. Ludwig von Mises spoke of this phenomenon in, “On Current Monetary Problems” with:

The advocates of annual increases in the quantity of money never mention the fact that for all those who do not get a share of the newly created additional quantity of money, the government’s action means a drop in their purchasing power which forces them to restrict their consumption. It is ignorance of this fundamental fact that induces various authors of economic books and articles to suggest a yearly increase of money without realizing that such a measure necessarily brings about an undesirable impoverishment of a great part, even the majority, of the population.

An injection of money into the economy by the government generally results in a transfer of wealth towards the top—real income transferred from those who can least afford it to those who already have plenty. (I already noted some time ago that this phenomenon seemed to get rolling in 1980.  The chart below is instructive.) One might even suppose this state-facilitated income transfer is the reason why statists in power so strongly support government control of the money supply, but that’s another discussion. Bottom Line:  Those who clamor for a president who cares about them get the same treatment and results as they would from some random bastard who openly scorned them. (No offense to the random bastard you support!)

And yet, here we are at election time, and the clarion calls continue to go up, from both sides of the ostensible aisle.

Cross-Posted at LRCBlog.

Five-Year Average Increase in Real Wages

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/10/19/when-will-the-voters-learn/feed/ 1
Is NASA Positioning Itself to Become a Regulatory Agency? http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/09/19/is-nasa-positioning-itself-to-become-a-regulatory-agency/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/09/19/is-nasa-positioning-itself-to-become-a-regulatory-agency/#comments Wed, 19 Sep 2012 21:19:57 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=11711 Space Taxi
Space Taxi

NASA-Certified Space Taxi

It sure seems like that’s what NASA is doing. NASA has to do something in order to maintain its relevance as the space age dawns in the era of commercial space flight. NASA is still running scientific-exploratory missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system, but even this role will be soon be overtaken by private enterprises like Planetary Resources.

From Space.com comes news that NASA has launched a private space taxi certification program. The program will consist of a two-stage “process aimed at ensuring commercial passenger spaceships currently under development will meet the agency’s safety standards, schedule and mission requirements.” Yay, NASA’s record of safety, timeliness, and priorities with minimal bureaucratic waste leaves me reassured.

Budget cuts no doubt have something to do with the certification program as well. “NASA expects to award multiple firms a Certification Products Contract (CPC), each of which will run for 15 months and be worth up to $10 million.” Restrict competition, rake in the dough, ensure the continuation of your own jobs, and retain control of the space industry — all in the name of safety, science, human progress, and protecting taxpayer “investments.”

The certification program appears to apply only to firms wanting to be hired by NASA — for now. Firms that want to ferry NASA crew to the behind-schedule and over-budget boondoggle that is the International Space Station (ISS) will have to get certified. But how long until NASA attempts to expand its regulatory reach beyond its own contractors?

NASA admitted in 2011 that it is not “fundamentally a public regulatory agency.” But that can change. We can be sure that the United States federal government will attempt to regulate space travel and commercial activity just as it regulates travel and business on Earth. The only question is, Which agency will be assigned to do the regulating? Will it be NASA, or some other new or existing agency? Surely the top bureaucrats at NASA would rather it be them.

What do you think? Is NASA positioning itself to become the regulator of space travel and commerce? Let us know in the comments.

[Prometheus Unbound]

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/09/19/is-nasa-positioning-itself-to-become-a-regulatory-agency/feed/ 1
Has Romney Been Reading Bastiat? http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/09/18/has-romney-been-reading-bastiat/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/09/18/has-romney-been-reading-bastiat/#comments Tue, 18 Sep 2012 16:43:53 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=11697

“Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” ~ Frederic Bastiat

No. Not even.

When Romney said “there are 47 percent who are with him [POTUS], who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them” he was roughly half right. Very. Roughly. What he left out is that the “other” 47 percent, those that are with him [Romney] are after the same thing. Admittedly, the number of people who are unrepentant tax feeders, to use Will Grigg’s apt description, is likely (hopefully?) lower than 94 percent. The naive, hopeful dreamer in me would peg it at probably closer to 65–75 percent.  Whatever the exact number is, the simple fact of the matter is that politics — particularly in the U.S., but abroad as well — is dominated by sociopaths with megalomaniacal tendencies who are often attended to and served by sycophants with dependency issues.

The other 25-35 percent and I just wish they’d all leave us the hell alone.

(Cross-Posted at LRCBlog.)

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/09/18/has-romney-been-reading-bastiat/feed/ 3
TLS Podcast Picks: The Rise and Fall of Tuna; Shakespeare’s Impact; Gay Marriage http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/08/25/tls-podcast-picks-the-rise-and-fall-of-tuna-shakespeares-impact-gay-marriage/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/08/25/tls-podcast-picks-the-rise-and-fall-of-tuna-shakespeares-impact-gay-marriage/#comments Sun, 26 Aug 2012 01:27:50 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=11592 Recommended podcasts:

  • How Shakespeare Changed Everything,” KERA Think (Aug. 22, 2012). This is one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve heard in some time—with Stephen Marche, author of How Shakespeare Changed Everything, which details the amazing influence Shakespeare has had on our culture. Interviews with such knowledgeable scholars highlight how great it is to have a society of 7 billion people that can afford to support scholars who can devote such depth to specialized topics. This interview is just a delight to listen to; I have the book on my to-read list. The main libertarian takeaway is some of the examples given to how Shakespeare’s plays have been reworked and remixed over the ages in various contexts. (I touch on some of this in posts in the tag Everything Is a Remix.)
  • The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food,” KERA Think (Aug. 23, 2012) A very interesting interview with Andrew F. Smith, author of American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food. The story is absolutely fascinating: about how tuna went from basically trash-food status with zero percent market, to huge popularity in just a few years in the early 1900s; and then how its popularity increased even more when there were other food shortages during WWI; then how production was hurt when 600 of the tuna boats were pressed into service during WWII and many Japanese-American fishermen were put in concentration camps and other tuna fishermen put into the Navy; how the mylar bags were adopted in part to avoid import tariffs; how the US government encouraged the tuna industry in other countries, in Japan and South America, after WWII in part because of shortages it has imposed by previous policies, leading ultimately to the devastation of the American tuna industry. Utterly fascinating interview. And it highlights the tragic effects of and distortion caused by state intervention in the market.
  • Why the GOP Should Embrace Gay Rights,” Reason.tv (Aug. 22, 2012). A short interview with David Lampo, publications director at the libertarian Cato Institute and the author of the new book, A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights. “Despite the influence in the party of social conservatives and the Religious Right, Lampo argues that if Republicans actually followed their own rhetoric about limiting the size and scope of government, they would be able to attract gay and lesbian voters who otherwise vote Democratic. An active member of Virginia’s Log Cabin Republicans, Lampo believes the party’s acceptance of marriage equality is inevitable given the huge social gains gays have made in recent decades.” For my own take on why libertarians should support gay marriage, see my post California Gay Marriage Law Overturned: What Should Libertarians Think?.
  • Update: see also Wendy McElroy, “The Art of Being Free,” CSPAN-2 (July 14, 2012). A discussion at Freedomfest with the iconic libertarian feminist author of The Art of Being Free.

 

]]>
http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/08/25/tls-podcast-picks-the-rise-and-fall-of-tuna-shakespeares-impact-gay-marriage/feed/ 0