Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Violence in Mexico

Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the Cato Institute is here interviewed on BBC regarding the increasing level of violence in Mexico due to the War on Drugs. I believe the War on Drugs has failed and should be ended for not only the sake of liberty, but for the sake of all the innocent lives that are lost both directly and indirectly. The video is embedded below:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Che/Mao - Communist Love Affairs

Reason.tv's Episode 22 explores why so many people, including those in Hollywood, are obsessed with idolizing communist revolutionary Che Guevera. Communist mass-murderer Mao Zedong is also gaining popularity and starting to appear on merchandise. The video can be found here and is embedded below:

Great Myths of the Great Depression III

A comment from Anonymous reads:
Once again, thank goodness for the two-party, system, as much as it is a pain. Thank goodness. Because if Libertarians ever got a hold of this country, wow, talk about going down the tubes. These ideas are so radical and unproven, its crazy.
Being as how both the Republicans, and now the Democrats have taken our country so far down those tubes, I'm not sure how much further we could go before complete ruin. But aside from that, exactly which parts of his essay are radical and unproven? I'm assuming, of course, that you read the essay. At least I sure hope you did before making such a comment.

The arguments that Mr. Reed presents are not new, and certainly are not unproven. They carry a lot of weight among most economists and a lot of historians. Though I've only read parts, one of the best books you could read on the subject is Murray Rothbard's America's Great Depression. Here's the conclusion of the 5th edition's introduction by well-known historian Paul Johnson:
[The Great Depression] is a dismal story, and I do not feel that any historian has satisfactorily explained it. Why so deep? Why so long? We do not really know, to this day. But the writer who, in my judgment, has come closest to providing a satisfactory analysis is Murray N. Rothbard in America's Great Depression. For half a century, the conventional, orthodox explanation, provided by John Maynard Keynes and his followers, was that capitalism was incapable of saving itself, and that government did too little to rescue an intellectually bankrupt market system from the consequences of its own folly. This analysis seemed less and less convincing as the years went by, especially as Keynesianism itself became discredited.

In the meantime, Rothbard had produced, in 1963, his own explanation, which turned the conventional one on its head. The severity of the Wall Street crash, he argued, was not due to the unrestrained license of a freebooting capitalist system, but to government insistence on keeping a boom going artificially by pumping in inflationary credit. The slide in stocks continued, and the real economy went into freefall, not because government interfered too little, but because it interfered too much. Rothbard was the first to make the point, in this context, that the spirit of the times in the 1920s, and still more so in the 1930s, was for government to plan, to meddle, to order, and to exhort. It was a hangover from the First World War, and President Hoover, who had risen to worldwide prominence in the war by managing relief schemes, and had then held high economic office throughout the twenties before moving into the White House itself in 1929, was a born planner, meddler, orderer, and exhorter.

Hoover's was the only department of the U.S. federal government which had expanded steadily in numbers and power during the 1920s, and he had constantly urged Presidents Harding and Coolidge to take a more active role in managing the economy. Coolidge, a genuine minimalist in government, had complained: "For six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad." When Hoover finally took over the White House, he followed his own advice, and made it an engine of interference, first pumping more credit into an already overheated economy and, then, when the bubble burst, doing everything in his power to organize government rescue operations.

We now see, thanks to Rothbard's insights, that the Hoover–Roosevelt period was really a continuum, that most of the "innovations" of the New Deal were in fact expansions or intensifications of Hoover solutions, or pseudo-solutions, and that Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration differed from Herbert Hoover's in only two important respects—it was infinitely more successful in managing its public relations, and it spent rather more taxpayers' money. And, in Rothbard's argument, the net effect of the Hoover–Roosevelt continuum of policy was to make the slump more severe and to prolong it virtually to the end of the 1930s. The Great Depression was a failure not of capitalism but of the hyperactive state.

I will not spoil the reader's pleasure by entering more deeply into Rothbard's arguments. His book is an intellectual tour de force, in that it consists, from start to finish, of a sustained thesis, presented with relentless logic, abundant illustration, and great eloquence. I know of few books which bring the world of economic history so vividly to life, and which contain so many cogent lessons, still valid in our own day. It is also a rich mine of interesting and arcane knowledge, and I urge readers to explore its footnotes, which contain many delicious quotations from the great and the foolish of those days, three-quarters of a century ago. It is not surprising that the book is going into yet another edition. It has stood the test of time with success, even with panache, and I feel honored to be invited to introduce it to a new generation of readers.

Paul Johnson
1999

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Great Myths of the Great Depression II

The beginning of January I read and posted about an essay by Lawrence Reed on the Great Depression. On March 12th, 2009, Mr. Reed, who is the President of the Foundation for Economic Education, gave a 15 minute lecture on his essay at the Austrian Scholars Conference held at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. It is a great introduction to the essay I linked to on my last post, titled "Great Myths of the Great Depression". The lecture can be found here via YouTube and is embedded below. Well worth a watch:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Eminent Domain Injustice

Via the Cato Institute, this video highlights the injustice committed by the Supreme Court in it's Kelo vs. City of New London ruling in favor of the government seizing private party property, in order to sell it to another private party to build a factory (which, 3 years later, all houses since demolished, has yet to be built and most likely won't be). The video is definitely moving and informative to those unfamiliar with the case, as I was until recently. Click here for the video and it's embedded below:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paul vs. Baldwin: War on Drugs

In a not-so-great-because-Ron-Paul-obliterates-Actor-Stephen-Baldwin debate between the two over legalizing marijuana, Congressmen Paul makes sound common sense points in his opposition to the federal prohibition of marijuana, via YouTube (embedded below):

Defend The Gold Standard

I have blogged before on the evils of fiat money. For those who are unaware of what fiat money is, fiat money is paper money that is not redeemable in any actual commodity, such as gold. In other words, fiat money is counterfeit money that can be inflated willey-nilley, producing all sorts of evils. See my post outlining those evils here. Roberty Murphy writes a great defense of the gold standard for the Ludwig von Mises Institute (using as his basis this piece from Bloomberg). An excerpt:
Let's take these one at a time. To criticize a monetary system based on gold as "rigid" only makes sense if you believe that printing green pieces of paper makes a country richer. After all, the only rigidity enforced by the gold standard is on the central bank's use of the printing press. Requiring the government to maintain a fixed dollar/gold exchange rate is "restrictive" in the same way that the Bill of Rights limits the discretionary power of the feds.

So yes, if Mr. Sesit thinks that the government does a good job centrally planning the economy with injections of new paper money, then I can see why he would consider the gold standard a bad idea. But let me ask you this: would you trust your next-door neighbor to use a legal-tender printing press "responsibly"? Now what about the people in DC? If we're going to be foolish enough to give them a printing press in the first place, don't you think it's a good idea to put some strict rules in place?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Presidential Role

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute shares his view on the presidential role of giving hundreds of speeches a year. Of course, Obama is our current president and an excellent example of the point he's trying to make, but he by no means is the only president to (have been) front and center, everyday, on every channel, giving speeches and holding press conferences. I agree with Healy that not only is it improper, but it also feeds into the unconstitutionality and irrationality of a be-everything-to-everybody-and-solve-all-our-problems-in-chief view that the head of the Executive branch has evolved into. The video can be found here and it's embedded below:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Revolution: A Manifesto II

I have completed this book and wanted to first share some thoughts and then quote some of the best parts from each chapter (just a few chapters).  I am glad I bought and read this book and should have done so a year ago when it came out. The book represents Ron Paul's political and philosophic beliefs about the Constitution, war and US foreign policy, economic freedom, civil liberties, and the central bank. He's consistently libertarian in each of these areas and the main call of the book is for an intellectual revolution in regards to our system of government, or the system of government that evolved, unconstitutionally, over the last 200+ years. I will probably keep my eye on Ron Paul and what he's up to a little closer than I have been and will do what I can to elect like minded individuals to all levels of government. Now for the quotes that stood out to me:

Chapter 1: The False Choices of American Politics
My message is one of freedom and individual rights. I believe individuals have a right to life and liberty and that physical aggression should be used only defensively. We should respect each other as rational beings by trying to achieve our goals through reason and persuasion rather than threats and coercion. That, and not a desire for "economic efficiency" is the primary moral reason for opposing government intrusions into our lives: government is force, not reason.
Chapter 2: The Foreign Policy of the Founding Fathers
Anyone who advocates the non-interventionist foreign policy of the Founding Fathers can expect to be derided as an isolationist. I myself have never been an isolationist. I favor the very opposite of isolation: diplomacy, free trade, and freedom of travel. The real isolationists are those who impose sanctions and embargoes on countries and peoples across the globe because they disagree with the internal and foreign policies of their leaders. The real isolationists are those who choose to use force overseas to promote democracies, rather than seeking change through diplomacy, engagement, and by setting a positive example. The real isolationists are those who isolate their country in the court of world opinion by pursuing needless belligerence and war that have nothing to do with legitimate national security concerns.
Chapter 3: The Constitution
Now, isn't our Constitution a "living" document that evolves in accordance with experience and changing times, as we're so often told? No - a thousand times no. If we feel the need to change our Constitution, we are free to amend it. In 1817, James Madison reminded Congress that the Framers had "marked out in the [Constitution] itself a safe and practicable mode of improving it as experience might suggest" - a reference to the amendment process. But that is not what advocates of a so-called living Constitution have in mind. They favor a system in which the federal government, and in particular the federal courts, are at liberty - even in the absence of any amendment - to interpret the Constitution altogether differently from how it was understood by those who drafted it and those who voted to ratify it.
Chapter 4: Economic Freedom
Prosperity comes not just from economic freedom at home, but also from the freedom to trade abroad. If free trade were not beneficial, it would make sense for us to "protect jobs" by buying only those goods produced entirely in our own towns. Or we could purchase only those goods produced on the streets where we live. Better still, we could restrict our purchases to things produced in our own households, buying all our products only from our own immediate family members. When the logic of trade restrictions is taken to its natural conclusion, its impoverishing effects become too obvious to miss.
Chapter 5: Civil Liberties and Personal Freedom
The failure of the federal war on drugs should be clear enough from one simple fact: our government has been unable to keep drugs even out of prisons, which are surrounded by armed guards. The fact is, drugs are already available to people who want them. That is the nightmare scenario that people fear, but they fail to realize that we are already there. Poll after poll finds the vast bulk of high school and college students easily able to acquire drugs if they so desire. That is how black markets work: prohibiting something that is highly desired does not make the desire go away but merely ensures that the supply of that good is provided in the most dangerous and undesirable manner possible, and endows criminal sectors of society with additional wealth and power.
Chapter 6: Money: The Forbidden Issue in American Politics
Central economic planning has been as discredited as any idea can possibly be. But even though we point to our devotion to the free market, at the same time we centrally plan our monetary system, the very heart of the economy. Americans must reject the notion that one man, whether Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, or any other chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, can know what the proper money supply and interest rates out to be. Only the market can determine that. Americans must learn this lesson if we want to avoid continuous and deeper recessions and to get the economy growing in a healthy and sustainable fashion.
Chapter 7: The Revolution
Ours is not a fated existence, for nowhere is our destiny etched in stone. In the final analysis, the last line of defense in support of freedom and the Constitution consists of the people themselves. If the people want to be free, if they want to lift themselves out from underneath a state apparatus that threatens their liberties, squanders their resources on needless wars, destroys the value of their dollar, and spews forth endless propaganda about how indispensable it is and how lost we would all be without it, there is no force that can stop them. If freedom is what we want, it is ours for the taking. Let the revolution begin.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Revolution: A Manifesto

I've picked up this book by Rep. Ron Paul and just finished the preface, which I will re-print here. But first a moment to share the names of those that have been influential in the journey I've been on these last few years in regards to my classic liberal (libertarian) philosophical beliefs. It started through reading the weekly columns of Walter E. Williams and Thomas Sowell in my local newspaper (Deseret News). Both are fine economists. Dr. Williams teaches at George Mason University and explains the libertarian philosophy, and economics, better than most. Dr. Sowell is one of the world's finest scholars and has written several books, many of which I own.

From there I began reading the columns of John Stossel and subscribed to The Freeman journal. This journal introduced me to several econo-libertarians such as Donald Boudreaux, Robert Murphy, and Steve Horwitz. About this time I discovered Google Reader and the ease of which I could follow these writer's blogs, articles, and columns. I soon found the Mises Institute and LewRockwell.com, both of which promote Austrian economics and libertarianism, or Austro-libertarianism, as it is called. With these and a few car, technology, and faith feeds, I read over 4500 blog posts, articles, and columns a month. Among these are those institutions named above plus the Cato Institute, Reason Magazine, the Foundation for Economic Education, and several personal blogs by libertarians and economists.

During all of this and the 2008 presidential elections, I was introduced to House representative Ron Paul of Texas. He certainly stood out during the Republican debates with his anti-war approach. I didn't really pay too much attention to him (being a politician, and all). It wasn't until this recent economic collapse that I started hearing more about him and the things he has stood for since the 1970's. Although I have held libertarian beliefs for a little while now, I've just barely gotten around to buying this highly recommended book. And after reading the preface, I thought I'd post it here along with this little chronicling of how I got here. I will post a follow-up after completing the book:
Every election cycle we are treated to candidates who promise us “change,” and 2008 has been no different. But in the American political lexicon, “change” always means more of the same: more government, more looting of Americans, more inflation, more police-state measures, more unnecessary war, and more centralization of power.
Real change would mean something like the opposite of those things. It might even involve following our Constitution. And that’s the one option Americans are never permitted to hear.

Today we are living in a fantasy world. Our entitlement programs are insolvent: in a couple of decades they will face a shortfall amounting to tens of trillions of dollars. Meanwhile, the housing bubble is bursting and our dollar is collapsing. We are borrowing billions from China every day in order to prop up a bloated overseas presence that weakens our national defense and stirs up hostility against us. And all our political class can come up with is more of the same.

One columnist puts it like this: we are borrowing from Europe in order to defend Europe, we are borrowing from Japan in order to keep cheap oil flowing to Japan, and we are borrowing from Arab regimes in order to install democracy in Iraq. Is it really “isolationism” to find something wrong with this picture?

With national bankruptcy looming, politicians from both parties continue to make multi-trillion dollar promises of “free” goods from the government, and hardly a soul wonders if we can still afford to have troops in - this is not a misprint- 130 countries around the world. All of this is going to come to an end sooner or later, because financial reality is going to make itself felt in very uncomfortable ways. But instead of thinking about what this means for how we conduct our foreign and domestic affairs, our chattering classes seem incapable of speaking in anything but the emptiest platitudes, when they can be bothered to address serious issues at all. Fundamental questions like this, and countless others besides, are off the table in our mainstream media, which focuses our attention on trivialities and phony debates as we march toward oblivion.

This is the deadening consensus that crosses party lines, that dominates our major media, and that is strangling the liberty and prosperity that were once the birthright of Americans. Dissenters who tell their fellow citizens what is really going on are subject to smear campaigns that, like clockwork, are aimed at the political heretic. Truth is treason in the empire of lies.

There is an alternative to national bankruptcy, a bigger police state, trillion-dollar wars, and a government that draws ever more parasitically on the productive energies of the American people. It’s called freedom. But as we've learned through hard experience, we are not going to hear a word in its favor if our political and media establishments have anything to say about it.

If we want to live in a free society, we need to break free from these artificial limitations on free debate and start asking serious questions once again. I am happy that my campaign for the presidency has finally raised some of them. But this is a long-term project that will persist far into the future. These ideas cannot be allowed to die, buried beneath the mind-numbing chorus of empty slogans and inanities that constitute official political discourse in America.

That is why I wrote this book.

-Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing. Copyright © 2008 by Ron Paul.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Supreme Court Rules FDA Useless

The Washington Post reports here about the latest Supreme Court ruling that says that drug companies are ultimately responsible for harm caused by their drugs. This is interesting because, as the report says, the Food and Drug Administration, in 2006, changed it's policy and adopted rules that would insulate drug companies from lawsuits resulting from harm their FDA approved drugs caused. Obviously, this deems the FDA useless, in regards to approving drugs, and returns drug regulation back to the market and the courts, where it should be.

The Cato Institute's policy handbook has this (and more) to say regarding the FDA:
The Human Costs of FDA Delays

As an agency, the FDA has a strong incentive to delay allowing products to reach the market. After all, if a product that helps millions of individuals causes adverse reactions or even death for a few, the FDA will be subject to adverse publicity with critics asking why more tests were not conducted. Certainly, it is desirable to make all pharmaceutical products as safe as possible. But every day that the FDA delays approving a product for market, many patients who might be helped suffer or die needlessly. For example, Dr. Louis Lasagna, director of Tufts University’s Center for the Study of Drug Development, estimates that the seven-year delay in the approval of beta-blockers as heart medication cost the lives of as many as 119,000 Americans. During the three and half years it took the FDA to approve the drug Interleukin-2, 25,000 Americans died of kidney cancer even though the drug had already been approved for use in nine other countries. Eugene Schoenfeld, a cancer survivor and president of the National Kidney Cancer Association, maintains that ‘‘IL-2 is one of the worst examples of FDA regulation known to man.’’ In the past two decades patients’ groups have become more vocal in demanding timely access to new medication. AIDS sufferers led the way. After all, if an individual is expected to live for only two more years, three more years spent testing the efficacy of a prospective treatment does that person no good. The advent of the Internet has allowed individuals suffering from specific ailments and patient groups to use websites and chat rooms to exchange information and to give them an opportunity to take more control of their own treatment. They now can track the progress of possible treatments as they are tested for safety and efficacy and are quite conscious of how FDA-imposed delays can stand in the way of their good health and even their lives.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Defending the Undefendable

I just finished this book by Mises.org fellow Walter Block and all I can say is, though you may not agree with everything he says (I don't), what he says will definitely alter your perspective on some of society's most notorious scapegoats. The book can be found here at the Mises.org book store and here as a full .pdf download. Here is the description from Mises.org and both a for and against quotation:

Professor Block's book...is among the most famous of the great defenses of victimless crimes and controversial economic practices, from profiteering and gouging to bribery and blackmail. However, beneath the surface, this book is also an outstanding work of microeconomic theory that explains the workings of economic forces in everyday events and affairs.

Murray Rothbard explains why:
Defending the Undefendable performs the service of highlighting, the fullest and starkest terms, the essential nature of the productive services performed by all people in the free market. By taking the most extreme examples and showing how the Smithian principles work even in these cases, the book does far more to demonstrate the workability and morality of the free market than a dozen sober tomes on more respectable industries and activities. By testing and proving the extreme cases, he all the more illustrates and vindicates the theory.
F.A. Hayek agreed, writing the author as follows: "Looking through Defending the Undefendable made me feel that I was once more exposed to the shock therapy by which, more than fifty years ago, the late Ludwig von Mises converted me to a consistent free market position. … Some may find it too strong a medicine, but it will still do them good even if they hate it. A real understanding of economics demands that one disabuses oneself of many dear prejudices and illusions. Popular fallacies in economic frequently express themselves in unfounded prejudices against other occupations, and showing the falsity of these stereotypes you are doing a real services, although you will not make yourself more popular with the majority."

"Many years ago Hazlitt's little masterpiece, Economics in One Lesson, demonstrated how, in order to measure the consequences of economic activies, one must look beyond their immediately obvious effects to thir secondary effects.  Here Professor Block sets out highly specific, and sometimes shocking examples of Hazlitt's thesis.  By concentrating on the positive economic contributions of extreme cases, he forces the reader's consideration and greater appreciation of these principles." -Robert D. Kephart

"...A positive menace to the libertarian movement.  His smart-alecky, sensationalist style, the silly and false social and psychological assumptions he uses to back up some otherwise (mostly) valid political and economic points, the frivolous and insensitive attitudes he displays toward serious human problems all serve to confuse and distract from the valid points.  Most people will be difficult to convince on rational political grounds without obscuring the issue with other half-baked, offensive, and unnecessary arguments.  The book will be offensive to people not just because his general attitude will be interpreted as callous, asinine, and an affront to human dignity.  It will surely reinforce the worst stereotypes people have about capitalists." -Sharon Presley (Laissez Faire Books)

The Golden Age of Free Speech

Looking at everything that's transpired in my life over the last 5 years, great advances were made for me intellectually and spiritually in large part thanks to the internet. Perhaps someday I will give a chronicling of that but suffice it to say that I truly believe we are living in a golden age of free speech, the likes of which was only dreamed of by our founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson specifically gave his opinion on where he wanted our constitutional rights to speech and the press to go. Here to briefly summarize the last 230+ years of America's free press history is an article I read in June of 2008. It was written by Steve Boriss for the Cato Institute's techknowledge publication. I highly recommend reading it. I also recommend adding your ideas to the marketplace via a blog or what not, as I have done. The introduction:
Everyone knows that the First Amendment phrase "freedom of the press" generally refers to journalists. But at the time the First Amendment was written, there were essentially no journalists as we think of them now. Newspapers were produced mostly in one-man shops by those whose trade was "printer" — not "reporter," "journalist," "columnist," or "editor." It would be another 30 years before America had its first full-time reporter.

The truth is that just as the phrase "freedom of speech" grants all of us the right to speak our minds, "freedom of the press" gives all of us the right to publish — to "freely use a printing press." Thomas Jefferson had no interest in empowering a special class, "the press," who today present themselves as superior in their abilities to ferret out, understand, and communicate the single, correct way to look at things. Instead, he wanted our news to be filled with a multitude of alternative voices and opinions competing in a freewheeling marketplace of ideas.