01 Sep 2014


Potpourri, Shameless Self-Promotion 13 Comments

==> My latest Mises CA post uses Jared Bernstein to confirm that Austrians haven’t been paranoid about the USD losing its reserve currency status.

==> The farewell conference for FEE at its Irvington mansion.

==> Jeremy Mack is a libertarian and evangelical pastor who came to the Night of Clarity. He has a blog that covers social issues from this perspective.

==> I am too bogged down with “day job” stuff to do much, but a recent discussion by Nick Rowe, Brad DeLong, and Scott Sumner was very interesting. As you can guess, I didn’t agree with any of them fully, but it was informative to see how each person in turn pointed out problems with the preceding analysis. Don’t bother clicking unless you are really an econ nerd.

==> Attention gold bugs! I think you will like the Fed’s recent interview with Richard Timberlake, some of the highlights of which David R. Henderson discusses.

==> Another example of how the problem with police is NOT “just a few bad apples.” Look at how badly these officers lied about what happened, and how screwed this guy would have been had the video not surfaced. Again, the point here isn’t that once in a while somebody in a job ends up doing something nutty. No, the point is that the higher-ups cover this kind of thing up, and only take action when the evidence is incontrovertible and the public is outraged.

01 Sep 2014

Of COURSE Paul Krugman Is a Fan of General Sherman

Krugman, Pacifism 96 Comments

And remember, when naming his blog, Krugman chose “Conscience of a Liberal” to stress that his worldview is infused not just with better economics, but with superior morals than his right-wing rivals. Anyway, his latest post says:

One hundred fifty years ago today, William Tecumseh Sherman’s corps, which had pulled back from in front of Atlanta — deceiving the Confederates into believing that they were in retreat — were scything around south of the city, cutting the rail lines. Hood’s army got away, but the victory was nonetheless decisive, for political reasons: the fall of Atlanta convinced voters that the war could and would be won, and Lincoln was reelected.

I’ve written before about my U.S. Grant obsession; Sherman, too. And the friendship between these two men — men who had no illusions about war, who understood the modern world and did what had to be done — is, to my mind, one of the great stories of American history.

Now for innocent readers who might not know, what exactly does this “did what had to be done” entail? Perhaps some of Sherman’s cannon fire on rebel troops went astray, accidentally killing a few dozen civilians? Is this the kind of thing Krugman is willing to excuse in pursuit of social objectives?

Nope, it’s a bit more than that. I’ll quote from Wikipedia’s entry on “Sherman’s March to the Sea”:

Sherman’s March to the Sea is the name commonly given to the military Savannah Campaign in the American Civil War, conducted through Georgia from November 15 to December 21, 1864 by Maj. Gen.William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army. The campaign began with Sherman’s troops leaving the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia, on November 15 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21. His forces destroyed military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property and disrupted the South’s economy and its transportation networks. Sherman’s bold move of operating deep within enemy territory and without supply lines is considered to be revolutionary in the annals of war.

Sherman gave explicit orders, Sherman’s Special Field Orders, No. 120, regarding the conduct of the campaign. The following is an excerpt from the orders:

… IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march…

V. To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or brigades. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms….

— William T. Sherman, Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864.

The Wikipedia article mentions that Sherman’s march was very destructive and controversial, but doesn’t report anything too shocking to one’s sensibilities. A more Southern-oriented (though still not inflammatory in tone) website reports:

Sherman’s march frightened and appalled Southerners. It hurt morale, for civilians had believed the Confederacy could protect the home front. Sherman had terrorized the countryside; his men had destroyed all sources of food and forage and had left behind a hungry and demoralized people. Although he did not level any towns, he did destroy buildings in places where there was resistance. His men had shown little sympathy for Millen, the site of Camp Lawton, where Union prisoners of war were held. Physical attacks on white civilians were few, although it is not known how slave women fared at the hands of the invaders. Often male slaves posted guards outside the cabins of their women.

When I was younger, I had this romantic notion that American “liberals” were very antiwar and lovey-dovey, whereas it was the right-wing realists who knew that sometimes you had to kill people to get things done. Well, now I know better.

31 Aug 2014

Let It Gooooo

Religious 4 Comments

I saw singer/songwriter Jordan Page play at a house concert in Tennessee last night. He told us a story (which I think he’d be fine with me relaying here) of how, earlier in his career, he had been playing at a bar and in between songs was telling the audience how they needed to take control of their fears. Afterward some woman came up to him and told him he was wrong. At first Jordan was angry at her, but she explained that you don’t “take control” or “master” your fears. Instead you surrender and acknowledge that you can’t control the world. Jordan said that at first he resisted this–nobody likes being corrected–but his barriers melted away when he realized she was right.

In a more specifically Christian context, this is quite standard advice. (You can see how many examples there are of Christian websites talking about surrendering to the will of God, and how this ironically gives freedom.) Psalm 37:7 says:

Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

However, other spiritual traditions have similar notions, with Buddhism being an obvious example.

I don’t even need to make this spiritual at all; I want to make sure the atheist/agnostic readers don’t get all hung up on the metaphysics for the moment. Whether you’re trying to hit a tee shot, sing a song, or get a date for the prom, if you overanalyze it and “try really hard” to get things to work out right, it blows up in your face. If instead you relax, don’t try to “control” the situation, let things unfold naturally, and don’t micromanage every detail, what happens “naturally” is going to be the best outcome.

30 Aug 2014

Just to Be Clear, No An-Cap Ever DID Claim Utopia

private law 125 Comments

In the comments of my lighthearted post about Gene Callahan’s Poconos gulag, K.P. wrote: “At least maybe claims of libertarian society being utopian will cease now.”

Unfortunately, I don’t know whether K.P. is just being a wiseguy along with me, or he is really putting his foot down and hoping that Rothbardians, going forward, stop pretending that their society will be a utopia. In any event, just to be clear, no scholarly Rothbardian (or Rothbard himself for that matter) ever did claim as such. Regarding private, gated communities, for example, I don’t deny that there will be rules and that some residents occasionally may chafe against them. But I don’t expect there will be squads of private security agents banging down Gene’s door at 2am and shooting him, because they received a tip that he was growing plants that the HOA had forbidden. Yet that sort of thing happens a lot in the United States at the hands of government police. Or, Gene says the head of the private community acts like a politician because he says his door is always open. OK, if the guy is caught lying about half the stuff he says he’s going to do, and he keeps his post even though the residents catch him embezzling their pool fees, then that’s a closer match. But in such a case, I’m guessing the guy would lose his position.

I’m not even making this up for purposes of irony; my favorite, succinct expression of the standard an-cap point was from this clever writer back in 2002:

The free market is not a panacea. It does not eliminate old age, and it won’t guarantee you a date for Saturday night. Private enterprise is fully capable of awful screw-ups. But both theory and practice indicate that its screw-ups are less pervasive and more easily corrected than those of government enterprises, including regulatory ones.

30 Aug 2014

Maybe Libertarians DO Need to Talk About “Privilege” After All?

Big Brother, Police, private law 128 Comments

I’m just kidding with the post title, but here’s what prompted it: Gene Callahan has bought his second (?) vacation/rental home in a private community in the Poconos, and finds that it is more oppressive than the local government he faces in the [edited to add:] rural U.S.:

[T]here were a number of small trees I could take down myself. About 10 minutes after I started my chainsaw, a security vehicle drove by my house and slowed to see what was going on: the tree police.

The community, for a place with low traffic volume, is also chock-full of stop signs, and has a low posted speed limit. When I stopped to register at the “government” office, I was told I would be fined for failing to stop at a stop sign or exceeding the speed limit. Oh, and while I was there, the community board president saw a newcomer, approached me, introduced himself, shook my hand, and told me his office was always open to me I had any problems or questions. Kind of like a… politician. 

Today I had my house power-washed. Within a few minutes of the rather noisy power-washing machine starting up, a security vehicle was again passing my house, again slowing to have a look at what was going on. In two weeks, my house in a private community has already garnered more security attention than the two houses I have owned in rural areas under the control of “statist” governments had in a dozen years.

In short, private government looks a lot like plain-old government, except maybe a bit more intrusive than I am used to.

I am pretty sure only a white, upper middle class, heterosexual male would write the above with a straight face. That doesn’t mean Gene is wrong, I’m just making an observation that most people on planet Earth would not say, “These Nazis actually stopped to look at me while I was operating a chainsaw. Really! They stopped to look at me!”

UPDATE: Also, for what it’s worth, check out the comments at Gene’s post. I make a joke, and then “rob” (not me) makes another one. Gene apparently doesn’t even get our jokes–which is distinct from not thinking they are funny–which shows just how far his thinking has evolved. In contrast, I am pretty sure I understand exactly the points Gene is making in his anti-anarchist posts.

30 Aug 2014

Mises on Empire and Liberalism

Pacifism 14 Comments

To repeat, I really like Dan McCarthy. He knows a ton more about history and politics than I do. But in his recent article in The American Conservative, he made the case that the British and now U.S. empires were necessary for a domestic liberal society. I have already linked you to my general response at antiwar.com. But here, let me specifically respond to McCarthy’s attempt to enlist Ludwig von Mises in his cause. This wasn’t relevant for the broader antiwar.com article, but you guys might like it…

Although it’s not central to his argument, McCarthy tries to bolster his credibility with libertarian readers by quoting from Ludwig von Mises’ discussion of colonial policy in his short work entitled Liberalism (by which Mises meant classical liberalism), published originally in 1927. After the famous Austrian economist first establishes that the European standard of living was utterly dependent on the continued importation of raw materials from Asia and Africa, Mises goes on to write (which McCarthy quotes):

Ought the well-being of Europe and, at the same time, that of the colonies as well to be allowed to decline further in order to give the natives a chance to determine their own destinies, when this would lead, in any event, not to their freedom, but merely to a change of masters?

This is the consideration that must be decisive in judging questions of colonial policy. European officials, troops, and police must remain in these areas, as far as their presence is necessary in order to maintain the legal and political conditions required to insure the participation of the colonial territories in international trade. [Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism, pp. 127-128]

For those familiar with the work of Mises—champion of individual liberty and proponent of peace—the above quotation is very surprising. McCarthy is aware of this, and uses Mises’ remarks (written, remember, in the interwar period) to bolster McCarthy’s own (qualified) case for empire. After quoting Mises as we have done above, McCarthy comments:

As shocking as these words might seem coming from one of the free market’s greatest champions, the conditional quality of Mises’s prescription ought to be noted: if trade is possible without colonialism, then national self-determination can be permitted. Liberal imperialism is not directed toward gratuitous conquest but toward maintaining a global environment conducive to liberalism.

Liberalism and empire reinforced one another in manifold ways. Britain met military necessities of the Napoleonic wars with moves toward domestic liberalization—more civil rights for Catholics and Dissenting Protestants, who could hardly be asked to serve under arms while being required to swear religious oaths and denied the chance to participate in politics. The manpower needed to police the seas even after Napoleon’s defeat provided further incentives for reform, as did the growing wealth brought about by the trade that empire and peace made possible.

Thus we see the rhetorical move McCarthy makes. By no means is McCarthy happy about his conclusion; he has a conscience, and doesn’t relish the idea that empires might have some beneficial consequences. Alas, McCarthy thinks, they simply do: we cannot ignore the apparent lessons of history. In his essay, McCarthy makes the case that we never could have achieved a relatively free, democratic society without the protection offered by empire (first the British and then the American). As we’ve seen above, McCarthy tries to use the free-market hero Ludwig von Mises—the “last knight” of liberalism—as a star witness in his camp.

Although I am sure McCarthy did not intend it, he nonetheless has provided a very misleading portrayal of Mises’ position. Let us present the preceding discussion in Mises’ section on “Colonial Policy,” drawn from a few pages prior to where McCarthy’s quotation begins. Now keep in mind, the title of McCarthy’s provocative essay is, “Why Liberalism Means Empire.” McCarthy’s whole thesis is that the good society desired by the (classical) liberal requires empire. With that in mind, let’s see what Mises had to say, starting three pages before the spot where McCarthy began quoting him:

The considerations and objectives that have guided the colonial policy of the European powers since the age of the great discoveries stand in the sharpest contrast to all the principles of liberalism. The basic idea of colonial policy was to take advantage of the military superiority of the white race over the members of other races. The Europeans set out, equipped with all the weapons and contrivances that their civilization placed at their disposal, to subjugate weaker peoples, to rob them of their property, and to enslave them. Attempts have been made to extenuate and gloss over the true motive of colonial policy with the excuse that its sole object was to make it possible for primitive peoples to share in the blessings of European civilization. Even assuming that this was the real objective of the governments that sent out conquerors to distant parts of the world, the liberal could still not see any adequate basis for regarding this kind of colonization as useful or beneficial. If, as we believe, European civilization really is superior to that of the primitive tribes of Africa or to the civilizations of Asia—estimable though the latter may be in their own way—it should be able to prove its superiority by inspiring these peoples to adopt it of their own accord. Could there be a more doleful proof of the sterility of European civilization than that it can be spread by no other means than fire and sword?

No chapter of history is steeped further in blood than the history of colonialism. Blood was shed uselessly and senselessly. Flourishing lands were laid waste; whole peoples destroyed and exterminated. All this can in no way be extenuated or justified. The dominion of Europeans in Africa and in important parts of Asia is absolute. It stands in the sharpest contrast to all the principles of liberalism and democracy, and there can be no doubt that we must strive for its abolition. The only question is how the elimination of this intolerable condition can be accomplished in the least harmful way possible. [Mises, Liberalism, pp. 124-125]

It would be difficult for Mises to have provided a more thorough repudiation of McCarthy’s thesis. I am confident–citing the authority of Mises himself–in claiming that the British Empire was not necessary for upholding classical liberalism up to World War I. Beyond that, I already explained in my antiwar.com piece why U.S. entry into WW2–and its subsequent empire–were also antithetical to a free society at home.

30 Aug 2014

A Free Society Must Give Up Empire

Pacifism, Shameless Self-Promotion 1 Comment

I want to go out of my way to say this isn’t an “attack” on Dan McCarthy. (It would be ironic to launch an airstrike from an antiwar website.) I respect Dan’s views greatly, and frankly was somewhat shocked when I read his article making a qualified case for U.S. empire. In any event, here’s my response. An excerpt:

[T]he (classical) liberal order that survived briefly under the heyday of the British Empire was snuffed out by World War I; the existence of a British empire did not guarantee the survival of liberalism. Further, we know that US entry into World War II brought the US itself to the brink of outright central planning during the war, and that the emerging Security State in the postwar era was the antithesis of a democratic Republic.

Although I generally respect his writings, I must sadly conclude that McCarthy’s recent article in support of US empire was woefully deficient. Indeed, I would argue the exact opposite of what McCarthy tried to demonstrate. Specifically, if you allow your government to maintain an empire abroad, then you can’t possibly expect a free and open society at home. This fact is staring us in the face as police departments across the country accept the surplus military equipment used in foreign occupations.

30 Aug 2014

Responding to Bryan Caplan on Why Government Enterprises Are So Good

Big Brother, Bryan Caplan, Shameless Self-Promotion 5 Comments

My newest LibertyChat article takes on Bryan Caplan’s surprising argument that Rothbardians can’t explain why government enterprises work so well. Here’s my conclusion, so you can see where I took the argument, but you should read the whole thing; I even talk about ice-pick lobotomies. (Yes, I went there.)

We see that the spirit of Rothbard’s analysis stands up, after all. There is not a sharp divide between “purely private” and “totally government” enterprise, but instead there is a spectrum. Some enterprises, like your local grocery store, are purely private–they can’t hobble their competitors and they can’t force their customers to give them money. Others, such as the Post Office, still have to convince their customers to give them money voluntarily, but they enjoy legal monopoly privileges. Still others, like a government school, receive tax funding regardless of how satisfied their “customers” are, but they can’t force parents to send their kids to that particular school, because even attendance laws can be satisfied by private schools or homeschooling (depending on the state). Finally, some enterprises–such as the NSA–can take your money and force you to enjoy their “services” with no choice on your part whatsoever.

The Rothbardian analysis, adjusting for this more nuanced spectrum, would say the grocery store is great, the Post Office and government school are a lot worse but not monstrosities, while the worst people in society will end up messing with you in the NSA and related agencies. And yep, that sounds about right, looking out at the world with open eyes.