even a broken clock

Even Al Sharpton gets it right every now and then:

It is ironic to me that [Glenn Beck and his "libertarian" friends] come on the day of a speech where Dr. King appealed for a strong government to protect civil rights and they're going to the site of Abraham Lincoln who saved the union against the state rebellion.

Yes, yes it is.

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libertarian fiction

In the last few weeks I've read a few of the more famous "libertarian fiction" works—Henry Hazlitt's Time Will Run Back, and Garet Garrett's The Cinder Buggy and The Driver.

Hazlitt may have been a good writer, but he had no skill in fiction. The characters in Time Will Run Back are pathetically two dimensional, and the plot is contrived and generally abysmal. Worst of all, the entire book is merely a conspicuous vessel for pedantic "discussions" about good economics. And even those discussions are of limited value—if you want lessons in economics, there are many better options. And whatever you do, don't read this if you're looking for fiction that isn't painful to read.

Garrett's works are much better. There's less pedantry, and where it exists, it provides helpful background to the story. The characters are, for the most part, believable, though sometimes it seems like Garrett had just finished The Idiot or The Brothers Karamazov when he sat down to write The Cinder Buggy—some of his characters act almost as irrationally as Dostoevsky's. Even so, The Cinder Buggy is a good book, and so is The Driver. Both have interesting, strong protagonists who work tirelessly to achieve their visions.

There's an interesting article on the Mises blog, entitled, "Ayn Rand and Garet Garrett," discussing the similarities between Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Garrett's works, especially The Driver. The obvious similarity is the last name of the protagonist (Galt), but another one that struck me was the use of a courtroom scene to vindicate the protagonist (Garrett uses it for Galt, Rand for Rearden). Nothing close to plagiarism, but interesting nonetheless.

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healthcare not working so well

So much irony in this (now unavailable) story, so little time. Where to begin?

After a week of wrangling, the Senate passed legislation to spare doctors a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments looming for months. But the leffort came too late. [...] That means doctors and nurse practitioners, physical therapists and other providers, who bill under Medicare's physician fee schedule, will be forced to re-submit their claims if they want to be reimbursed, with added paperwork costs for them and taxpayers.

Remember how Obamacare was going to be so efficient? This is just a taste of what is to come. Here, the result is that health providers get taxed, either 21% or the cost of dealing with more paperwork.

"Congress is playing Russian roulette with seniors' health care," said Dr. Cecil Wilson, president of the American Medical Association. "This is no way to run a major health coverage program."

Last time I heard, the AMA's position on government-run healthcare was slightly more positive. There's a name for people like Dr. Wilson: rube.

The bill delays the cuts until November—after the elections—when lawmakers hope the political climate is better for passing a more permanent and expensive solution.

All the more reason to throw them out in November and be done with it.

Vice President Joe Biden [...] blamed Republicans

Naturally. Blame the opposing party for the consequences of the failure of a government program. Everyone knows that in government-funded healthcare, congress provides the funding. When congress says "enough already," and people's expectations are dashed, the fault lies with the supporters of the program making promises they couldn't keep.

The political gridlock has angered doctors. The AMA says financial uncertainty may cause doctors to stop taking new Medicare patients, and others may drop the program altogether.

Poor doctors, they don't like government-controlled medicine now as much as they did a year ago. Even so, health care isn't free, and health providers aren't slaves. Until elected officials understand these basic facts and move to replace the current healthcare disaster with a free market, things aren't going to get better. In the meantime, the more doctors that draw attention to this egregious state of affairs by quitting Medicare, the better. How long before cash-only healthcare becomes normal?

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antitrust and the rule of man

This article by S.M. Oliva makes clear the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of antitrust law. Collusion is perfectly natural and accepted for some groups, such as NBA players, public school teachers, and manufacturing company employees. But others get sued and fined for doing essentially the same thing, because it's "price-fixing" or the like.

Collusion and cartels are not bad. If they cause pain to some segment of the population, that segment no longer has to associate themselves or their wealth with the cartel members, and the cartel will weaken.

Unless, of course, you live in the United States, you're a company owner, and the cartel you're talking about is your employee union. Then you're screwed.

But back to the main point—this is another example of where "rule of man" has replaced "rule of law," exactly as F. A. Hayek predicted in The Road to Serfdom. Where government bureaucrats (such as those at the FTC) get to pick which types of "colluders" get prosecuted and which don't, the rule of law is gone, and so is liberty.

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robber barons?

Just finished reading Burton Folson's The Myth of the Robber Barons. It's a quick read (the third edition comes to 134 pages outside of notes), and contains the eye-opening stories of true capitalists like Vanderbilt, Hill, and Rockefeller.

As Folson explains, these are the kind of men whom Ayn Rand idealized in Atlas Shrugged—entrepreneurs who devote themselves to selling what the public wants at continually lower prices. In the process, such men get rich, and so does society.

Folson contrasts these "market entrepreneurs" with the "political entrepreneurs," with whom many were forced to compete. He tells the stories of Vanderbilt and Hill competing against their subsidized peers and yet surviving, a testament both to the folly of government-funded infrastructure and to the brilliance and tenacity of Vanderbilt and Hill. They implemented bold ideas, leaving well-funded competition in the dust and hostile legislators scratching their heads.

At the end of the book, Folson reviews the works of modern historians and finds that this message is either ignored or replaced by anti-corporation mantras. "Big business," these historians claim, was the cause of the corruption of the time. Folson shows that these historians ignore the crucial distinction between market entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs—that graft, waste, and corruption were primarily found in government-funded operations.

Other myths are debunked equally well: Folson argues that the war on "trusts" and "monopolies" perpetuated by politicians like Teddy Roosevelt and laws like the Sherman Act was harmful, in that they damaged businesses that drove costs down and benefited their wasteful competition. He discusses studies on "social mobility" and finds that in many cases, historians have underestimated the amount of social movement both up from poverty and down from wealth. Folson also clears Andrew Mellon's name, arguing that his tax cuts during the 1920s were beneficial, particularly to the poor.

This is clearly a well-researched book—there are copious notes, directing the reader to more information about every aspect of the subject matter. It's also an easy read—well-written, engaging, and fairly short. Definitely worth a read!

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their main interest is liberty

Today I was reminded of a great quote from Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative. Last time I discussed the book I was rather negative, but as far as 20th century politicians go, Goldwater was near the top. The following might convince you of that:

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is "needed" before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents' "interests," I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

And now Rand Paul is quoting him. Can we soon expect to have one decent politician in both the House and the Senate? I hope that's not too much to ask...

terrorism in a police state

If you haven't seen this disturbing video, and you care about police powers in a free society, it's definitely worth a watch. The story can be found in an article from Reason Magazine.

Here we see the fallout of a) the war on drugs and b) the militarization of police (and one could argue that (b) is at least partially a result of (a)). One injured dog, one dead dog, and a terrorized family. All to fine a nonviolent "criminal" $300 for having a bong in his house.

And yet, the police followed all the rules: they knocked and announced themselves (twice!), barged in to the correct house and got their man, and didn't shoot any people. Nothing outside of SOP... and that's the scary part.

Instead of a face full of buckshot or multiple felony convictions, which is what a normal person would get for such actions, the initiators of violence in this case and hundreds of cases like it will not be punished.

No free society would stand for this.

For examples of less "successful" raids, see CATO's map.

And here's another one. Official response? "Sorry about that. We're investigating."

take all the time you need

Today's top story is that the feds have put aside unconstitutionality and are actually debating something within their jurisdiction: bathroom equality in federal buildings.

Congress, so long as you don't expand the scope of this investigation to include an area larger than ten miles square, feel free to spend the next six months debating this issue—every day you do is another in which we can all breathe just a bit easier.

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the moon is down

From which author do the following words come?

You killed six men when you came in.  Under our law you are guilty of murder, all of you.  Why do you go into this nonsense of law, Colonel?  There is no law between you and us.  This is war.  Don't you know you will have to kill all of us or we in time will kill all of you?  You destroyed the law when you came in, and a new law took its place.  Don't you know that?

And again:

The people don't like to be conquered, sir, and so they will not be. Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars.

I certainly wouldn't have guessed Steinbeck, but these are excerpts from his excellent novella The Moon Is Down. A quick read with realistic characters and a powerful message.  Definitely worth the time.

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opinions are cheap

The problem with politicians and democracy in 30 words or fewer:

A man who does not know what has been thought by those who have gone before him is sure to set an undue value upon his own ideas.

Mark Pattison, 1885.  Never heard of him until I found this quote referenced in a work by Lord Acton.

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the forgotten man of health care

The New York Times, in its article about the president signing the new health care bill, talked about a "select group of ordinary Americans" who attended the ceremony, who had become a "case in point for Mr. Obama" in his quest to destroy make scarce reform health care.  One was an 11-year-old boy for whose mother's death a lack of health insurance is blamed.  A sad story, to be sure, but here again we see decisions being made without regard for a key person: namely, the forgotten man.  Let's call Obama "A," Congress "B," tax-paying Americans "C," and this boy's mother "X."  Sumner describes this situation in The Forgotten Man:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. As for A and B, who get a law to make themselves do for X what they are willing to do for him, we have nothing to say except that they might better have done it without any law, but what I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist.

This forgotten man has his own needs and his own family, and instead of attempting to manipulate the federal government into taking care of him, he attempts to fulfill his responsibilities himself.  He is hindered, however, by the burdens (taxes, inflation, and fees) put on him by A and B on behalf of X (who is not attempting to fulfill his responsibilities himself).

Obama and Congress did not do a good deed by passing this law.  They refused to do a good deed (personally help people like the boy's mother, with their own time and money) and instead passed a law that forces other people to help people like the boy's mother.  It is not moral to force others to do "good deeds," and indeed, "good deeds" done under threat of punishment are not "good deeds" anyway.  Obama & Co. have chosen a path that precludes all moral action, and by threatening the use of force against the innocent forgotten man, have acted immorally themselves.

second war of secession

I'm going on the record here: the worst thing to happen to this country, bar none, was the war that ran 1861–65. The income tax? A ballooning federal debt? Fiat money? Overreaching executives? Election fraud? Eminent domain? Suppression of free speech? The decline of federalism? All bad things, but not as bad as what they have in common.

In the first place, there's obviously the human toll: 600,000+ dead, when the combined population of North and South was only around 30 million. It's still the deadliest war in American history. It also brought us atrocities like Sherman's march and horrors like Andersonville.

The long-term results, however, have also been devastating. Good ol' Abe Lincoln <choke> gave us the country's first income tax, a huge federal debt, lots of fiat money, and an excellent model for future presidential power grabbers by the names of Roosevelt, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Johnson. He rigged elections in Maryland, carved out a chunk of Virginia and made it a state, and denied habeas corpus to Northern journalists and activists imprisoned for speaking against his policies. And in the end, he destroyed what Lord Acton called "the most efficacious restraint on democracy that has been devised," that is, Federalism—the power of the States to check the central government.

Why was the war fought?  Before you mechanically respond with what they indoctrinated taught you in public school, consider what Lincoln said in his first inaugural address, just months before hostility broke out:

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

[Slavery] has been a mighty instrument not for evil only, but for good in the providential order of the world.

Hmmm... that sure doesn't fit the narrative. But what about the Emancipation Proclamation?  

All persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.

If Lincoln really cared about slavery, might he have actually freed the slaves in the states that formed his government? He didn't. The Emancipation Proclamation freed only the slaves in states that Lincoln's government did not control, while slavery continued in Northern states like New Jersey and Maryland. For Lincoln, the liberation of slaves was pure pragmatism, a means of winning the war.

Besides, if slavery was the issue, shouldn't the U.S. have followed the example of virtually every other country in the Western Hemisphere? Of all the countries west of the Atlantic, only Haiti and the United States experienced widespread violence associated with abolition, and in Haiti it was slave revolts. Brazil—which had approximately as many slaves as the United States—let slavery go with hardly any strife at all. How? By degree: as slaves escaped to free states, the rest of the country gave up. Result? Free slaves, without slaughter of men or self-government.

Such a path in the United States would have been more difficult due to the Fugitive Slave Law (a burden Brazil didn't have to deal with). But those who truly wanted the end of slavery were, decades prior, advocating secession—of the North. "No Union with Slaveholders" was their cry. If they had succeeded, they would have abolished slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law in the North, clearing the road for a gradual and humane abolition of the peculiar institution throughout the continent.

They were opposed, however, by a faction in the North, known as Republicans, that wanted something else: control over the South in the form of perpetual union. They had blinked during the crisis of 1832, and they weren't going to repeat the mistake. One member of this faction, Lincoln, articulated their position this way:

No State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union.

Lincoln's support of "perpetual union" and rejection of self-determination and self-government (except, conveniently enough, in the case of West Virginia!) was so strong that he was prepared to send hundreds of thousands of young men and civilians to their deaths. He had apparently forgotten about some rebels who, 85 years prior, had defied a powerful nation and seceded from it, claiming that their rights were under attack from a foreign power. They had made declarations like:

When a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

The States were, of course, shocked, because Lincoln's belligerence on the issue was completely opposite to the assurances they had received when asked to sign the Constitution in the first place. Virginia had even said in its ratification of the Constitution:

The powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them, whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.

It is absolutely ridiculous to think that most of the states would have accepted the Constitution if they had thought that it meant "perpetual union." Talk of the right of secession throughout early American history was widespread, even though never acted on until 1860. For just one example, in 1815, a group of New Englanders opposed to the War of 1812 formed a convention in Hartford and discussed the merits of secession. Even Daniel Webster, later a fierce advocate for perpetual union at the expense of the South, spoke supportively of the convention in a speech to Congress.

Sadly, the tyrants won the day in America's Second War of Secession, and proceeded to subjugate the vanquished. By abolishing slavery in the worst way possible—instantly, by force, and without regard for the individual interests of owners and slaves, they created other problems. Would racism to the point of violent resistance (by the KKK and others) have been an issue in the South had it been abolished peacefully and legislatively? Would racism still be a weapon wielded to make political points?

We can't know for sure, but what is sure is that nearly all of our modern federal government's egregious violations of the Constitution have precedent during Lincoln's term in office.  The closest thing to truly free government ever seen on earth was poisoned on his watch.  It staggered on for a few more decades, until Teddy Roosevelt dug the hole, Woodrow Wilson put the wood box together, and Franklin Roosevelt nailed it shut.

(if you want more on this, do yourself a favor and read Lord Acton's treatment on the subject and, if you're slightly more ambitious, Jeffrey Hummel Roger's Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War)

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The Supreme Court has overturned parts of McCain-Feingold, the law that restricted speech by organizations, including nonprofits.  From the majority opinion:

The law before us is an outright ban, backed by criminal sanctions. Section 441b makes it a felony for all corporations — including nonprofit advocacy corporations — either to expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates or to broadcast electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election. Thus, the following acts would all be felonies under §441b: The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests; the National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U. S. Senator supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate’s defense of free speech. These prohibitions are classic examples of censorship.

The real problem, however, is that McCain-Feingold is a classic example of passing a law to fix a problem that the government created by passing too many laws.  It's a faulty stop-gap for the problem that no one wants to address—that the federal government has unlimited power to put people out of business.  Weak businesses know they can bring their stronger competitors down via regulation, unions, and antitrust laws, so they are willing to spend a lot of money to make it happen.  If their stronger competitors have any sense, they ante up as well to prevent getting shut down. All of that is corruption, plain and simple.

The simple way to stop corruption is to kill it at its source: by eliminating the agencies and laws that companies use to beat up their competitors.  Businesses have no incentive to lobby and bribe powerless regulators and politicians, so they won't.  

The complicated way to stop corruption is to attempt to control how groups of people (e.g., shareholders and private donors) spend their money.  Conveniently, this also increases the size and power of the government.

John McCain, Russ Feingold, and most of congress preferred the complicated way.  

Ironically, as long as McCain-Feingold was in place, it contributed to the corruption problem.  Corporations could tattle on their competitors who weren't following it correctly, thereby getting them fined or worse.  Or, corporations could, via the lobbyist system, spend money to keep McCain-Feingold enforcers off their backs.

Repealing this law would be an especially good first step if the second step (repealing antitrust laws) and third step (gutting union laws, OSHA, the EPA, and others) were on the horizon, but that's unlikely.  As it stands, there's now one fewer law on the books, it's slightly easier for corporations to influence elections (more straightforward, at least), and it's much easier for nonprofits to support their candidates near election time.  To me that comes out to a net positive, but not much to get excited about.

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I haven't read Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs, but I feel like he could issue an updated edition with at least a few pages on Climategate.  To recap: hackers released data from a major climate research center that show that scientists have been somewhat less than forthright with climate change data.  It appears that data that didn't fit the climate change story was massaged, and research that challenged the status quo was silenced.  More analysis is here, including the following:

The damage here goes far beyond the loss of a few billions of taxpayer dollars on bogus scientific research. The real cost of this fraud is the trillions of dollars of wealth that will be destroyed if a fraudulent theory is used to justify legislation that starves the global economy of its cheapest and most abundant sources of energy.

It always seems to work that way, doesn't it?  Climatologists, conservationists, sociologists, physicians, economists... some group of "experts" scream that the sky is falling; statists listen, get excited, send taxpayer dollars their way, and introduce some new freedom-restricting laws; and we, the forgotten men, pay for it.  Stricter emissions standards mean more expensive and less reliable cars.  Nature reserves prevent use of natural resources like timber and oil.  Subsidies for ethanol production simultaneously increase the deficit (and thus taxes) and the cost of food.  Bailouts reward risky business practices and lobbying efforts while punishing fiscal discipline and accurate forecasting.  

Then—surprise, surprise—we learn that the "experts" were less than completely honest!  No one (except a few "crazies" who had to be silenced for the sake of "progress") could have imagined that ANWR is covered in ice, corn doesn't make an efficient fuel, bailouts don't cause net job growth, and man-made global warming is a hoax.  History suggests that the chances of this latest debacle being enough to stop Cap and Trade are slim.  But no matter: even if the do-gooders fail today, they'll be back in a few years with a different set of "experts" proclaiming a different crisis—to which the only solution, they will assure us, will be to regulate us to death.

off to a great start...

On August 28, 2010, I ask you, your family and neighbors to join me at the feet of Abraham Lincoln on the National Mall for the unveiling of The Plan and the birthday of a new national movement to restore our great country.

A libertarian Glenn Beck certainly isn't.  Restoring our great country at the foot of one of its most committed enemies?  Someone needs to get that man a copy of The Real Lincoln or Lincoln Unmasked.  And an appreciation for states' rights, for pity's sake.

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