14 Jul 2009

Final Fulminations From FreedomFest

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I flew back from FreedomFest Sunday, but believe it or not I actually have to work to earn money, and so I haven’t had time to blog about the festivities till now. Some remarks:

* Tom Woods and Gene Epstein absolutely destroyed John Fund and Warren Coats regarding their Friday debate, “Fed Up With the Fed: Should We Abolish?” Tom gave a good opening, and at the end the crowd erupted into applause. Then Coats got up to give the opening speech for the “No” side, and he started out by saying, “Yes, the Federal Reserve has made mistakes. Alan Greenspan held rates too low for too long. After the crisis hit, Ben Bernanke committed the dangerous precendent of buying mortgage-backed securities and hence politicizing the markets…” and he just keeps listing all the way the Fed stinks. And then he ran out of time and had to sit down!! (I’m not kidding.) John Fund opened with a line of Shakespeare and did some damage control, such that I imagine the people in the crowd who always longed to sit at the cool table in high school may have been swayed. But all in all, Tom and Gene just owned their opponents. (Of course, it was a lopsided event; the crowd was packed with Ron Paul fans.)

* Earlier that day, Rob Bradley (full disclosure: the guy who recruited me for IER) was in a debate (on “Conscious Capitalism) against John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods. It was interesting; I was watching the founder of the organization that gives me a bunch of money, debate the founder of an organization that takes a bunch of my money. But it was a big lovefest; all four people in the debate agreed 99% with each other, and I think they even used that number themselves. One very interesting disclosure was that Mackey said environmentalism had nothing intrinsically to do with his management philosophy, and that if someone were a skeptic on climate change then that was fine. I’m going to bring that up the next time the Whole Foods clerk asks me to start using their “green” bag.

* You won’t believe this, but see for yourself on the left side of page 11 [.pdf] of the conference schedule. On Saturday 10:30 am, I was slotted to speak on my book, and at the same time in the main arena, Mr. Schiff from Euro Pacific Capital was speaking. And you know what? I managed to pack out my room, with a good 35 people or so. I’m serious. (You need to follow the link to get the joke.)

* I caught most of the talk by Thomas Krannawitter, who is Tom DiLorenzo’s arch nemesis on the topic of Abraham Lincoln. TK was hired by Hillsdale during my last year (I think) teaching there, and I immediately liked him because, despite the PhD, he is a normal guy. During his talk he said something like, “So where is this alleged right of state secession coming from? As Lincoln pointed out, if a state could secede from the Union, then what about a county from the state? A neighborhood from the county? Indeed, followed to its logical conclusion, a secessionist would need to be an anarchist.” Later TK and I were both near each other signing books. I asked Tom something like, “Suppose you were confronted with an anarchist who didn’t like Lincoln. Would you have anything to say to him, besides your view that anarchy wouldn’t work?” And I think Tom basically said, “Yeah, there’s no logical contradiction there, I just think he would have a hard time proving that it would be a workable society without the rule of law.” I’m pretty sure Tom didn’t know my background [.pdf] on this, and I’m also pretty sure he didn’t know who David Friedman was, sitting two spots to my left. Tom could have held his own debating us, but I’m just saying it was ironic because I don’t think he realized he was within ten feet of the Hall & Oates of anarchist theory. (Calm down, I’m Oates in that analogy.)

* Regarding the above point, no I didn’t get to talk to David Friedman. In between us was Quee Nelson, who was kind enough to give me a free copy of her book criticizing postmodern philosophy. I only read about 40 pages on the plane, but it was really good. If you are a secular rationalist and yet think freight trains really exist, I highly recommend the book.

OK back to the coal mines… (Speaking of which, after Waxman-Markey saves the planet from destruction, will wise alecks say, “OK back to the solar panel factory”?)

13 Jul 2009

Waxman-Markey Causes Civil War on the Left

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The head of NASA’s Goddard program Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, was one of the first climate scientists to raise the alarm over global warming. He has recently written [.pdf] that unless we reduce atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 350 ppm (they’re currently at 387 ppm), we may be handing our descendants a climate system with a runaway greenhouse effect. So this guy is no softie on climate change action.

Yet I have to respect him, because Hansen has come out strongly against Waxman-Markey, or in his words, “the counterfeit climate bill known as Waxman-Markey.” To clarify, I’m not endorsing Hansen’s critique; the reasons he hates it are much different from my own objections. But I respect him because there is obviously a lot of pressure on environmentalists to go along with W-M rather than give points to the Republican “deniers.” So unless there is something even more devious going on behind the scenes, it looks like Hansen is actually taking his own rhetoric seriously. In other words, if the world really is going to end without drastic and immediate cuts in emissions, then you can’t support Waxman-Markey. Here’s my favorite part of Hansen’s article:

Some leaders of big environmental organizations have said I’m naïve to posit an alternative to cap-and-trade, and have suggested I stick to climate modeling. Let’s pass a bill, any bill, now and improve it later, they say. The real naïveté is their belief that they, and not the fossil-fuel interests, are driving the legislative process.

In case you’re wondering whom Hansen has in mind, here’s a hint. Ahh it’s amusing to watch the fireworks. Joe Romm is actually driven to defend speculators!

13 Jul 2009

Mish Should Ditch His Deflation Fears

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So I argue in today’s Mises Daily:

Whatever happens to the absolute levels of various prices, certainly the relative prices of hard commodities and staples will rise, compared to the prices of mortgage-backed securities and commercial paper issued by a coal-based utility company. Even if the “debt deflation” scenario is generally right, the absolute effect could be swamped by the relative effects, meaning that retirees on fixed dollar incomes could still get wiped out when their standard monthly expenses rise. The deflationists like Mish might be right, but they need to make a much stronger case.

13 Jul 2009

Two Audio Suggestions

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* Here is my talk [.mp3] to Christ Presbyterian Church (in New Braunfels, TX). The topic was the Great Depression, then and now. I think this was the biggest crowd I have given a talk to, except for my high school graduation. There were more than 250 people at this thing, I believe. Also, hands down this was the best reaction I have received. People weren’t just saying, “Hey I liked your talk,” they were saying things like, “You are a great teacher. I have never heard economics explained like that before.” So anyway, if you haven’t yet listened to one of these things, this particular example is probably the best sample so far.

* Here is the link to listen to Scott Horton’s recent interview with Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers. (Ellsberg is also an accomplished game theorist.) Even though I read Ellsberg’s book Secrets, I had forgotten just how much the government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin and other matters regarding Vietnam. Also, if you do decide to follow the link and listen, pay attention near the end of the interview. I swear Ellsberg comes right up to saying, “The Vietnam hawks took out JFK,” but he stops just short. See if you agree.

12 Jul 2009

Pussyfooting Around Evil

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In a recent post on John Calvin, Tyler Cowen wrote something that caught my eye: “Here is one reason why there is “evil” in the world…”

If you go read it in context, Tyler isn’t (I don’t believe) putting “evil” in quotation marks to mean “evil as Calvin defines the term.” No, I think Tyler is trying to be very non-pushy, and doesn’t want to impose his own views on his readers, who after all may not share Tyler’s theory of morality.

I think this is a very dangerous habit. The reason it jumped out at me is that in grad school I once wrote in a LewRockwell.com article something like, “Even though I agree the world would be ‘better’ if heroin had never been invented, even so it doesn’t follow that armed men from the State should go around punishing heroin users.”

And I know for me (at the time in my super rationalistic worldview), the reason I put “better” in quotation marks was that I was a scientific guy and knew the is/ought distinction. I believed it was just a convention of language to say some state of the world was “better” than another, let alone to label a particular action as “good.”

This is dangerous stuff. I don’t recall Tyler ever putting “social welfare function” in quotation marks, to denote the fact that some non-economist readers might object to its very existence, and yet he seemed to deny this commonsensical existence to evil.

One of my favorite lines from The Usual Suspects was, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”

(Note to readers: It was an accident that the post on salvation came out on a Saturday. I clicked on the Post Options and changed the time to early am, and I thought I had changed the date to Sunday. But I must have forgotten to adjust the date. So sorry for any atheist readers whose eyes were seared with the J-word.)

11 Jul 2009

Krugman: "Bob Murphy’s Novel Thesis Is Right!"

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OK that’s not quite what he said, but look: In this post Krugman argues that, heh heh, if you naively look at the data, heh heh, it seems that the Fed cutting interest rates actually hurts the economy. And so the Chicago School monetarists are being hypocritical when they condemn fiscal stimulus, because their own arguments would “prove” that monetary stimulus doesn’t work either.

That of course is the main contribution of my Depression book, and I crystallized the counterintuitive point in this article, “Banks Should Raise Prices In a Recession.” So did Krugman buy my book, or just read the Mises Daily article?

11 Jul 2009

Salvation Through Faith or Works?

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I was raised a Catholic, and now call myself a born-again Christian. The biggest doctrinal change is that as a Catholic, I thought that the way you “get into heaven” was by trying to live a good life, and then if God thought you made the final cut, you got onto His team. But you really couldn’t know beforehand whether or not you made it, since after all only God would know such things.

Well Protestants don’t believe that. (BTW I am by no means an expert on what various sects believe, so please correct me in the comments if I misspeak.) They think that the way you achieve eternal life is to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior. And if a Catholic says, “How do you know that?” they say, “Because I read the Bible and it’s plain as day. You should try it sometime.”

(BTW I am trying to be funny here. I am not ripping Catholics; in general they are much more scholarly I think than Protestants. However, it is undeniably true that in my experience–and I went to Catholic schools until college–I barely ever held a Bible in my hands. I was stunned when the [born-again] pastor who married us, showed me in the Bible that you could know what you needed to do to achieve salvation. No when had ever stressed those passages to me before, even though I had seen “John 3:16″ at baseball games etc.)

Now what’s interesting is that even though the Protestant can come up with numerous, apparently airtight declarations in the New Testament about believing in Jesus as the sole thing you need to do to get into heaven, nonetheless the Catholics (if they wanted) could come right back with plenty of other declarations stressing the importance of “works.” Thus the Catholic could with good reason retort, “You guys are nuts! You’re telling me if a serial killer says ‘I accept Jesus’ that’s it? Even if he keeps killing people?”

For a while I have thought the resolution of this conundrum is the realization that belief in Jesus is an action, it is a “work.” In other words, it’s not “merely” a belief; it is a conscious choice that you make in leading your life, when you invite Jesus into your heart, accept Him as your savior, and all the other ways a Protestant describes it.

What I (re)discovered while reading the Gideon Bible in sin city during Freedom Fest is that Jesus Himself seems to agree with my take on this. Check out John 6:28-29:

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

(Also, I’ve noted this before, but I always think it’s neat to see what John 6:66 says.)

10 Jul 2009

Checking in From FreedomFest

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I am trying to contain costs during my Vegas getaway, so I had toyed with the camel-esque strategy of loading up at 3pm at casino buffets to knock out two meals at once. (I actually don’t think it’s a good idea.) I texted Robert Wenzel, who said the Mirage buffet was good, and it was. It was pricier than I was imagining–something like $27–but I think I drank that much in Cokes.

Now I’m off to catch the tail-end of Peter Schiff, and then Tom Woods has a talk. When checking in, I saw two women wearing Ron Paul “EVOL” shirts and carrying a humongous “END THE FED” sign.