Power & Market
Yesterday in Colorado, voters rejected numerous proposed taxes and government regulations. One of the biggest was Proposition 112, which was an anti-fracking measure that would have outlawed fracking in much of the state. That failed, with 57 percent voting no.
Meanwhile, a proposed tax to fund government schools — for the children! — failed with 55 percent voting no. Two separate new taxes to fund new transportation projects failed with neither mustering more than 40 percent approval. There was a pro-hemp-industry measure, which passed with 60 percent approval, which is designed to allow more expansion for hemp businesses. 66 percent also voted against new proposed limits on campaign funds. Nor did voters look kindly on an effort to reduce the minimum age for serving in the state legislature to 21 (it's currently 25).The "youth vote" strikes out yet again.
So looking at these pro-business, anti-tax, anti-youth vote results, one might think, "golly, those Republicans must have done pretty well in Colorado!"
Last night's election was an absolute bloodbath for the GOP in Colorado.
The same voters who voted to defeat all statewide tax increases also voted to elect Democrats to every single statewide office, including Governor, AG, and Treasurer. The Dems maintained control of the House, and they managed to flip a few seats to get control of the Senate.
With the governor, it wasn't especially close. Jared Polis won with 52 percent, but his opponent, Walker Stapleton, couldn't even muster more than 45 percent. He performed more poorly than all other statewide GOP candidates, all of whom got 47 percent.
With Polis at the top of the ticket, and with Stapleton as such an embarrassingly weak candidate, this hurt the rest of the GOP candidates.
But how could an electorate so opposed to taxes vote for so many Democrats? The answer is that Democrats ran as fiscally responsible moderates, while Republicans largely ran as conservative culture warriors.
This could be seen in the campaign ads of the two gubernatorial candidates. Stapleton, who should ask for his money back from his campaign advisors, ran with the tag line "A conservative who gets things done!" Stapleton should have asked his advisors when was the last time anyone won the governor's mansion playing up his conservatism. The answer is maybe one time: 2002, when incumbent Bill Owens crushed hard-left candidate Rollie Heath.
When Owens ran the first time, though, his campaign had a laser-like focus on three things: increase infrastructure spending, lower taxes, increase school accountability. The end. He avoided talking about anything else. And he won with a less-than-one-percent margin in the 1998 race.
Using that sort of simple approach, Owens remains the only Republican to win the governorship since John Love back in the 1960s. And Love was no "conservative." He signed one of the nation's most expansive pro-abortion statutes at the time.
Since then, when Democrats run as moderates — as was the case with Roy Romer (1987-1999) and John Hickenlooper (2011-2019) — they win.
And Polis ran as a moderate. I know this because I live in a core city (i.e., not the suburbs), which means the marketing consultants assume I'm likely to vote Democrat. So, I was fed Polis ads before pretty much every YouTube video I've seen in the past two months. I can even quote from memory Polis's tag line: "Jared Polis: saving you money!"
And who's going to vote against that? Had I been less cynical, given the content of the ads, I probably would have concluded, "this Polis guy sure sounds reasonable!" What Polis certainly did not do was say "Jared Polis: a liberal who fights for reform!" or something like that. It would have been disastrous.
In fact, the anti-Polis ads said Polis was "too radical for Colorado." The problem is, few non-Republicans believed it. This is especially the case since Polis's Congressional career was, as far as Washington politicians go, not especially terrible.
Moreover, Polis was helped by how awful a candidate Walker Stapleton was. If you assumed that someone named "Walker Stapleton" was from the manicured lawns of a manse in Connecticut, you would be right. Stapleton is a cousin of George W. Bush, and while he is the grandson of a five-term mayor of Denver, Stapleton is not from Colorado. He moved to Colorado just six years before he decided to run for statewide political office and begin his march toward his rightful place — in his mind — at the top of Colorado's political establishment. Worse yet, his mayor grandfather is largely notable for being a high-ranking Klansman. And while you might say "gee, a man shouldn't be punished for who his grandfather was," it was just one more thing that made Stapleton's biography so un-compelling.
Polis, by the way, is fabulously wealthy, and while he was born rich, he has managed to cultivate an image (accurately or not) of being someone who turned a small fortune into a large fortune in mundane industries like the greeting card and florist industries. In Colorado, no one begrudges people with self-made riches. But wealthy carpetbaggers from east-coast political families don't fare quite so well.
Polis's riches, though, allowed him to spend massively on political ads, which is why even people like me saw hundreds of those ads telling us what a reasonable, fiscally responsible fellow he is. Stapleton, meanwhile, spent time talking about his conservatism and "sanctuary cities" and other things few Coloradans have ever cared about. (I suppose there's some comfort for the GOP in the fact that even with all his spending, Polis still only got 52 percent.)
But, if you seek victory as a Colorado candidate, offer the voters tax cuts, offer the voters shiny new roads (paid for without tax increases). But whining about immigrants never did much to win anyone statewide office around here. This isn't Trump country. It's not the Bible Belt (and never has been). But as the voter-initiative results showed, most Coloradans aren't fans of taxes or commie rhetoric about business owners. One would think that's a fairly easy winning formula to figure out.
It's unknown if the state GOP will ever get its act together again and run some decent candidates, but one might note that the voters of Maryland just re-elected a Republican governor. If a Republican can win in Maryland of all places, what does that tell us about the Colorado GOP?
One of the dangers facing those who have come to believe in a certain philosophy or approach is the temptation to ignore or reject useful insight from those who are not “pure” enough—those who deviate from “the Truth” either in their position on certain issues or because of the hypocrisy of actions inconsistent with their alleged beliefs.
That is bad strategy. After all, in a world where, ultimately, ideas are what matters, one cannot successfully rebut incorrect positions one is ignorant of. But it also wastes useful insights.
Rejecting an insight because of hypocrisy that is unrelated to that insight or which does not disprove it is a logical error, with potentially serious consequences. For instance, that approach would put the wisdom of America’s founders “out of bounds,” particularly those whose actions once they had power differed from the principles they enumerated and fought for beforehand. Their abuses, once in power, testify to power’s ability to corrupt, but do nothing to reject their insights into the importance of liberty and the corollary need to curb government.
Restricting oneself to the insights of those who are “pure” amounts to an appeal to authority. Such consistency adds important endorsement to the power of a valid insight (one reason why libertarians are so fond of Murray Rothbard). That is particularly important in a complex world, where one can easily miss important incentives or causation mechanisms, undermining the degree of certainty one can have about deductions to be drawn. Those who have earned reputations for recognizing what others miss act as insurance against such potential mistakes. Yet a true statement is true regardless of whether the source is “pure of heart and action,” just as falsehoods that come from good men do not become true because they are stated by good men.
People also tend to shy away from giving much consideration to those viewed as deviating from “the Truth” in some of their actions. But such deviations do not justify ignoring their contributions.
In some situations, there may be only two basic positions possible—support for a particular group, especially the one in power, or joining with the opposition. Especially in violent disputes, one may be unable to opt out, forcing a choice between two imperfect options. Joining the opposition, often far from pure, may yet be the only effective means of opposing a greater evil (e.g., the resistance in World War II). That does not, however, amount to endorsing everything those in the opposition stand for. That is why defending the currently abused side can make the most sense (in the limited sense that in such choices, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”), even if their positive program, should they come to power, would also be abusive of those to be “ruled.”
Similarly, someone can have a valid objection to something that is wrong, without having an adequate conception of what is right or of what would best correct the wrong in view. As a result, just because you disagree with someone else’s broader understanding or “solution” does not justify throwing out their valid insights with their confusion. This seems most frequent in considerations of justice—I can often recognize when an injustice is imposed on me, but that does not mean my preferred “solution” either solves the injustice or does so without imposing new injustices on others (e.g., one of the attributes of negative rights is that they prevent injustice without causing injustice elsewhere, which positive rights cannot).
One practical consequence is that we can learn from and be inspired by victims of abuse and tyranny, who recognize the wrongs, without endorsing their possibly misguided or even harmful “solutions.”
A good example of someone generally overlooked by libertarians for certain “indiscretions” is Albert Camus, the 1957 Nobel Laureate in Literature, whose birthday is November 7. One can easily take issue with or be unconvinced by his existentialism or his conclusion that everything comes back to absurdity. One can also object to actions such as his brief membership in the Communist party, his personal infidelities, etc. But despite those issues, his defense of liberty against tyranny, particularly in World War II and its aftermath, was very important. Consider just a few of his most important insights.
- The real passion of the twentieth century is servitude.
- Political utopias justified in advance any enterprises whatever.
- The welfare of the people…has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience.
- The tyrannies of today…no longer admit of silence or neutrality. One has to take a stand, be either for or against. Well, in that case, I am against.
- The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the state. The only one I know is freedom of thought and action.
- Absolute domination by the law does not represent liberty, but without law there is no freedom.
- Freedom is not a gift received from the State or leader.
- Freedom is not a reward or a decoration that is celebrated with champagne…It’s a long distance race, quite solitary and very exhausting.
- Freedom is nothing else but a chance to get better, whereas enslavement is a certainty of the worse.
- Liberty ultimately seems to me, for societies and for individuals…the supreme good that governs all others.
- It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners. Is it possible…to reject injustice without ceasing to acclaim the nature of man and the beauty of the world? Our answer is yes.
- Instead of killing and dying in order to produce the being that we are not, we have to live and let live in order to create what we are.
- The aim of art, the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot, under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily…there is not a single true work of art that has not in the end added to the inner freedom of each person who has known and loved it.
- The current motto for all of us can only be this: “without giving up anything on the plane of justice, yield nothing on the plane of freedom.”
- Being aware of one’s freedom, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum.
- More and more, when faced with the world of men, the only reaction is one of individualism. Man alone is an end unto himself.
There are many things Albert Camus wrote or did that I may have issues with. But it would be a shame to lose the inspiration of words such as these due to differences that do not negate their validity.
In a world where time and energy are scarce, choosing to read someone we have learned to consistently expect insight from makes a great deal of sense. It increases the chances that the time will be well spent. It expands our own insights and reminds us of how important some things are to life. That is why libertarians read a great deal from those who similarly value freedom. But while that may be our foundation, we cannot stop there. While holding on to our recognition of the importance of liberty, we can also learn from and be inspired by those who may be fellow travelers only in part.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh is being used to justify new infringements on liberty. Of course, opponents of gun rights are claiming this shooting proves America needs more gun control. Even some who normally oppose gun control say the government needs to do more to keep guns out of the hands of the “mentally ill.” Those making this argument ignore the lack of evidence that background checks, new restrictions on the rights of those alleged to have a mental illness, or any other form of gun control would have prevented the shooter from obtaining a firearm.
Others are using the shooter’s history of posting anti-Semitic comments on social media to call for increased efforts by both government and social media websites to suppress “hate speech.” The shooter posted anti-Semitic statements on the social media site Gab. Gab, unlike Twitter and Facebook, does not block or ban users for offensive comments. After the shooting Gab was suspended by its internet service provider, and PayPal has closed the site’s account. This is an effort to make social media websites responsible for the content and even the actions of their users, turning the sites’ operators into thought police.
Some social media sites, particularly Facebook and Twitter, are eager to silence not just bigots but those using their platforms to advocate for liberty. Facebook has recently banned a number of libertarian pages— including Cop Block, a site opposing police misconduct. Twitter has also banned a number of conservatives and libertarians, as well as critics of American foreign policy. Some libertarians say we should not get upset as these are private companies exercising private property rights. However, these companies are working with government and government-funded entities such as the Atlantic Council, a group funded by NATO and the military-industrial complex, to determine who should and should not be banned.
The effort to silence “hate speech” is not just about outlawing racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic speech. The real goal is to discredit, and even criminalize, criticism of the welfare-warfare state by redefining such criticism as “hate.” It is not just progressives who wish to use laws outlawing “hate speech” to silence political opponents. Some neoconservatives want to criminalize criticism of Israel for the nonsensical reason that any criticism of Israel is “anti-Semitic.” Other right-wing authoritarians wish to expand hate crime laws to include crimes committed against police officers.
Ironically neoconservatives and other right-wing authoritarians are among the biggest purveyors of real “hate speech.” What could possibly be more hateful than speech advocating perpetual war? Cultural Marxists are also guilty of hate speech with their calls for both government and private violence against political opponents, and for the use of government force to redistribute property. Just about the only individuals advocating a political philosophy not based on hate are those libertarians who consistently advance the non-aggression principle.
Preserving the right to free speech is vital to preserving liberty. All who value freedom should fight efforts to outlaw “hate speech.” “Hate speech” laws may initially be used to target bigoted and other truly hateful speech, but eventually they will be used to silence all critics of the welfare-warfare state and the authoritarian philosophies that justify omnipotent government. To paraphrase Ludwig von Misses, libertarians must fight hate speech—including the hate speech emanating from Washington, D.C.— with the “ideas of the mind.”
The Trump Administration is preparing to restore sanctions on Iran that his predecessor lifted as part of a nuclear disarmament agreement. This week John Bolton also indicated that they were considering new sanctions on Nicaragua during a speech that lumped the Central American country with Cuba and Venezuela as the “troika of tyranny” — a new tropical-flavored version of the Axis of Evil.
The moves come the same week as Secretaries James Mattis and Mike Pompeo called for Saudi Arabia to end its military action in Yemen. This follows growing pressure from a bipartisan coalition of senators calling for reexamining America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. While much of this is a direct byproduct of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, many in Washington seem to have finally awakened to the horrors of famine and other human rights abuses in Yemen, a direct byproduct of Saudi Arabia’s actions.
Unfortunately America’s escalation of sanctions to other countries once again highlights the superficial nature of Washington’s lip service to human rights. It’s fitting that Trump boasted about escalating economic sanction with Iran with a Game of Thrones-inspired tweet, the devastation these policies will bring to Iranians brings to mind the callousness of Cersei Lannister.
We know this because this is precisely what happened in the past.
While any government will defend the use of sanctions as an attack on some rouge nation, the reality is that the much of the pain is inflicted directly on the people themselves. Removing Iran from the international financial system devastated Iranian merchants, resulting in scarcity for vital necessities. In particular, sanctions have a significant impact on the availability of even basic medicine. As an Iranian doctor explain to The Guardian:
It’s no more only about shortages in drugs for cancer or special diseases such as haemophilia or thalassemia, but also normal drugs that were abundant in Iran previously. A normal drug like Warfarin, which stops blood clotting, is becoming difficult to find, which means patients’ lives are at risk if we as doctors can’t get these medicines. Another example is Amlodipine, which is for treatment of blood pressure. Amlodipine is produced internally but companies have problems with importing its ingredients due to banking restrictions or other sanctions.
The actions of the Trump Administration will assuredly lead to the deaths of innocent Iranians who have no connection to the regime.
Unfortunately this willingness to punish civilians for the actions of their government is an economic extension of the total war views of the 20th century. Mises wrote about this escalation of warfare in Omnipotent Government:
Modern war is not a war of royal armies. It is a war of the peoples, a total war. It is a war of states which do not leave to their subjects any private sphere; they consider the whole population a part of the armed forces.
Even worse, the Iranians that suffer most from these actions are the very same ones who are the most opposed to their regime. This isn’t simply economic collateral damage, it’s economic friendly fire.
There is one development that may offer some degree of assistance to the Iranian people during this round of sanctions: international pushback to the dominance of the dollar.
As the Trump Administration has doubled down of the same failed policies of the past, we’re seeing an economic version of blowback emerge as well. With the other members of the Obama Iran Deal opposing the Trump Administration re-enacting tariffs, Europe, China, Russia, and others have been working up parallel financial channels to work around the US sanctions. Gold has also become a popular means of avoiding the dollar, with the Trump administration taking new measures to target Venezuela’s gold trade.
At its best, money is a foundation of civilization and human flourishing, allowing for the division of labor and the benefits of trade. The more the US turns this tool of peace into a weapon of war, the more other countries will look to protect themselves from it. Just as competing currencies is the best way to protect Americans from the hubris of the Fed, it’s the best way to shield the globe from malice of Washington.
The media is railing about Trump for fearmongering ahead of the midterm elections. Like this never happened before? Like this is not the job description of modern politicians? Like Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton did not fearmonger whenever they could profit by spooking Americans? Trump is continuing a tradition that was firmly established by Woodrow Wilson. Fearmongering is simply another proof of the rascality of the political class – and another reason why their power should be minimized. Here’s a 2011 piece I wrote on the topic, excerpted in part from Attention Deficit Democracy.
Fear-Mongering and Servitude
In his 1776 essay, “Thoughts on Government,” John Adams observed, “Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.” The Founding Fathers hoped the American people would possess the virtues and strength to perpetuate liberty. Unfortunately, politicians over the past century have used trick after trick to send Americans scurrying to politicians to protect them.
President Woodrow Wilson pulled America into World War I based on bogus idealism and real fear-mongering. Evocations of fighting for universal freedom were quickly followed by bans on sauerkraut, beer, and teaching German in government schools. H. L. Mencken observed in 1918: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence, clamorous to be led to safety—by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” In Mencken’s time he was often considered cynical. Subsequent developments have proven Mencken to be a prophet.
The Democratic Party relied heavily on the fear card in the 1920 presidential race. On the eve of the November vote that year Democratic presidential candidate James Cox declared: “Every traitor in America will vote tomorrow for Warren G. Harding!” Cox’s warning sought to stir memories of the “red raids” conducted in 1919 and 1920 by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, during which thousands of anarchists, communists, and suspect foreigners were summarily jailed and in many cases deported. The American people rejected Cox and embraced Warren Harding’s promise of a “return to normalcy.”
President Franklin Roosevelt put “freedom from fear” atop the American political agenda in his 1941 State of the Union address. But FDR’s political legacy—especially Social Security—has institutionalized fear-mongering in presidential and congressional races. Democrats perennially portray Republicans as planning to yank life support from struggling seniors.
For almost 50 years American politicians have used television ads to spur dread, most famously in the 1964 “Daisy” ad for Lyndon Johnson’s campaign. The ad showed a young girl, in the words of Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times, “picking the petals off a daisy before the screen was overwhelmed by a nuclear explosion and then a mushroom cloud and Mr. Johnson declared, ‘These are the stakes.’” The ad did not specifically claim that Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee, would annihilate the human race, but the subtle hint wafted through. Though this ad only aired once, it instantly became a legend.
Whipping up fear was the flipside of President Bill Clinton’s “feeling your pain” political style. Clinton fanned people’s fear of guns, militias, and life without medical insurance. At the same time, the Clinton administration stretched the power of government on all fronts—from concocting new prerogatives to confiscate private property to championing FBI agents’ right to shoot innocent Americans to bankrolling the militarization of local police forces. Clinton was the Nanny State champion incarnate, teaching Americans to look to government for relief from every peril of daily life—from unpasteurized cider to leaky basements. As long as the President seemed to care about average Americans, his abuses were largely forgotten. (The 1996 Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Bob Dole, also promised to provide voters with “freedom from fear” via untying “the hands of the police.”)
Fear and Bush
The 2004 race was the most fear-mongering presidential campaign in modern American history. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush referred to terror or terrorism 16 times. Bush reelection campaign television ads showed firemen carrying a flag-draped corpse from the rubble at Ground Zero in New York and a pack of wolves coming to attack home viewers as an announcer warned that “weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.” (One commentator suggested that the ad’s message was that voters would be eaten by wolves if John Kerry won.) Just before Election Day a senior GOP strategist told the New York Daily News that “anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush.” People who saw terrorism as the biggest issue in the 2004 election voted for Bush by a 6 to 1 margin. Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy, observed that the Bush campaign was “using the fear factor almost exclusively. This is a highly researched decision with all the tools of public opinion management. It’s nothing but a reflection that it works.”
Bogus terror alerts might have made the difference in the 2004 election. Robb Willer of the Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory at Cornell University examined the relationship between 26 government-issued terror warnings reported in the Washington Post and Bush’s approval ratings. “Each terror warning from the previous week corresponded to a 2.75 point increase in the percentage of Americans expressing approval for President Bush,” Willer concluded. Bush beat Kerry by 2.4 percentage points in the popular vote. Former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge later admitted that many of the 2004 alerts were unjustified. The Cornell study also found a “halo effect”: Americans’ approval of Bush’s handling of the economy also rose immediately after the announcement of new terror warnings, Willer reported. Apparently the more terrorists were allegedly poised to attack America, the better job Bush was doing.
Voters in 2004 could choose whether they would be killed by terrorists if they voted for Kerry or whether they would be left destitute and tossed out in the street if they voted for Bush. Boston University professor Tobe Berkovitz commented to the Washington Post: “It’s not surprising that both campaigns are looking for the leverage point: scaring the hell out of the American public about what would happen if the other guy wins.” But the more an election is about fear, the more the winner will presume to be entitled to all the power he claims to need to combat the threat.
In his 2005 State of the Union address Bush declared: “We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy. And chief among them is freedom from fear.” The Founding Fathers would have derided the notion of politicians giving citizens “freedom from fear.” And they would have denounced the notion that this new-fangled freedom is superior to the freedoms the U.S. government had pledged to respect for more than 200 years.
After promising freedom from fear, a politician can always invoke polls showing widespread fears to justify seizing new power. The natural result of making freedom from fear the highest freedom is that any policy that reduces fear can be portrayed as pro-freedom. Bush claimed that to keep Americans safe he had to suspend habeas corpus and detain any suspected terrorist in perpetuity based solely on his unproven assertions. Bush authorized the CIA to use waterboarding and other methods of torture on detainees. He ordered the National Security Agency to launch a massive illegal wiretapping program that eavesdropped on thousands of Americans’ phone calls and emails without warrants. Yet Bush remained a great champion of freedom—at least in the eyes of his supporters.
The political mass production of insecurity is a dominant trait of our age. The easiest way for rulers to destroy the leashes the Constitution imposed on them is to make voters think they must choose: “We can obey the Constitution or we can prevent you from all being killed. What is it going to be?”
Rising fear can also undermine the freedom of speech that is a bulwark against government abuse. To the extent people desperately cling to faith in the leader to save them from all perils, they develop an intolerance to anyone who points out government follies or falsehoods. The Bush 2004 reelection campaign did all it could to fan such intolerance. Stumping around the nation for Bush, former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik told audiences in the final months of the campaign: “Political criticism is our enemy’s best friend.” As criticism is suppressed government becomes more incorrigible. Eventually the mistakes that could have been corrected cheaply early on become catastrophic national failures.
Fear and Obama
President Obama has picked up the fear-mongering relay baton with his attempts to frighten Americans about health care, global warming, economic collapse, and government shutdowns. Obama has also invoked the fear card to sanctify bombing bad guys anywhere and everywhere.
Government fear-mongering creates a downward politico-psychological spiral. The more fearful people become, the more gullible they will be. British philosopher John Stuart Mill warned in 1842: “Persons of timid character are the more predisposed to believe any statement, the more it is calculated to alarm them.” It is almost irrelevant whether 10 or 20 or 30 percent of the citizenry can see through government’s fraudulent warnings. In a democracy, as long as enough people can be frightened, all people can be ruled.
In the same way that some battered wives cling to their abusive husbands, the more debacles the government causes, the more some voters cling to rulers. The craving for a protector drops an iron curtain around the mind, preventing a person from accepting evidence that would shred his political security blanket. In the days after the 9/11 attacks polls showed a doubling in the number of people who trusted government to “do the right thing.” The media fanned this blind faith—as if trust in government was the high road to public safety. The Bush administration exploited the trust to unleash itself at home and abroad, and the nation is still paying the costs of its post-9/11 infatuation with government.
Bogus fears can produce real servitude. The Founding Fathers expected the American people to bravely stand up for their rights if their rulers trampled the law. Citizens cannot cower on cue without forfeiting any possibility of keeping government on a leash. If America is to have a rebirth of liberty, it must begin with a rebirth of courage.
The distinguished entrepreneur Robert Luddy, a friend and benefactor for many years of the Mises Institute, has extended his innovations in education from elementary and high schools to universities. His Thales Academy has had great success, and he now proposes a Thales College as well. This college will not seek accreditation, in that way cutting through oceans of bureaucratic red tape. Students will pay only $4000 per term for tuition, enabling them to avoid the long-term burden of repaying student debt. The college, located in Wake Forest, North Carolina, will use innovative techniques such as the “flipped classroom,” in which students read the material at home and meet in class only for discussions. You can be sure that students in a program run by Bob Luddy will get a sound education in free market economics and the values of Western civilization.
Damian Thompson, writing in the UK’s Telegraph, recently noted that "This is the only time of year when I become seriously anti-American." The reason? He hates Halloween.
Apparently, Halloween is one of "America’s worst exports" according to Thompson, and he is at least the second British writer just this year that I’ve noticed going on a tirade against this venerable American holiday.
Now, I don’t fault Thompson (who is one of my favorite religion writers) and his fellow Brits for hating Halloween at all. The dreary streets of London suburbs simply don’t mesh with the spirit of Halloween, and I’m reminded of the one Halloween I spent in Rome where tiny children wandered through the streets (all dressed in identical witch or ghost costumes) and begged shopkeepers and restaurateurs for some kind of treat that I couldn’t identify.
So no, Europeans don’t know a good Halloween any more than they know a decent hot dog, so I don’t begrudge Thompson or his brethren on the continent who also apparently have their own reservations about Halloween.
But what a magnificent American festival it is. The smell of candles burning inside pumpkins, the sound of crunching leaves beneath our feet, and the chance to dress up and beg for free candy are all a recipe for childhood memories that easily rival the fun of even Christmas.
It’s the trick-or-treating that the Brits seem to hate the most, but in America, the act of going door to door to beg for treats is as American as candied apples and pumpkin pie. Indeed, going door to door for treats was once considered the thing to do on numerous holidays. Thanksgiving especially was once considered a day for treat-hunting throughout the neighborhood, and for impromptu and raucous parades of strangely dressed citizens looking for a fun time.
Over time, these door-to-door parades were quashed by the guardians of the respectable middle classes who thought such activities too working-class and too un-bourgeois to be tolerated. Thus, they invented the Thanksgiving turkey dinner and the Thanksgiving football game rituals out of nothing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in an attempt to replace the more spontaneous celebrations of the common folk.
But Thanksgiving was a cynical creation of government, and Halloween has never been a government-sanctioned holiday, so it is all the more encouraging that trick-or-treating thankfully survives in spite of all the efforts of fear-mongering suburbanites and crazed religious devil-fighters who do their best to ruin the holiday every year.
And what a testament to the inherent goodness of humankind that trick-or-treating survives. Every year, millions of Americans go out and drop quite a bit of money on treats for children, and then give it away for free. And, in all these years of trick-or-treating there are no documented cases of poisonings of children by strangers. Yes, some sick people have poisoned the Halloween candy of their own children, but the risk of being poisoned by some nut in your neighborhood is just about zero.
In spite of what the guardians of decency may have us believe, most people simply aren’t interested in poisoning children. Instead, we Americans take great joy in handing out free stuff to people who ring our doorbells and demand candy.
If foreigners can’t appreciate the sheer fun and exhilaration of such a festival, so be it. I can’t stand it when Americans act like there’s no such thing as a uniquely American culture. Maybe the average American has become too ignorant and classless to know it, but American civilization is simply among the best in both music and in English-language literature. And it’s been that way for well over a century.
And it’s some of that excellent literature that informs what we think of our best secular holiday. The entire mise-en-scène of Halloween comes to us from Americans.
While the idea of the jack-o-lantern may come from an Irish version made from turnips, the modern jack-o-lantern, made from pumpkins, which are native to the Americas, is as American as they come.
And when we think of the elements of Halloween with its dark forests and headless horsemen and gothic freaks and menacing ravens, we are taking a page from the works of writers like Washington Irving and the inimitable Edgar Allen Poe who is the undisputed father of the American horror movie, the ghost story, and the American folklore behind haunted houses and masquerade balls.
Yes, tales of werewolves and monsters, and even Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster come to us from Europeans, but that unique feel of Poe-ish gothic creepiness within a chilly North American autumn is what we all strive to re-create every 31st of October.
What Halloween is complete without a recitation of "The Raven?" And who would let a Halloween go by without carving a jack-o-lantern? Hopefully few of us would be so thankless as to let such a great American opportunity pass.
Socialism has killed more than 100 million people worldwide. Socialism came to Venezuela 60 years ago and has proven to be the worst form of government under which to improve the quality of life. Ludwig von Mises once said that every socialist is a potential dictator, and the history in Venezuela supports his statement. My country is now ruled by one of the most tyrannical, vicious, and corrupt regimes in the world and — as a dedicated socialist regime — it could not be anything else.
On October 5, a leader of the political party Primero Justicia, Fernando Alban, was murdered by these enemies of freedom. He was held and tortured by the SEBIN (the Venezuelan intelligence agency) and his injuries were so severe that he ultimately died from them. After his death his body was thrown from a 10-story building and immediately, and officially, ruled a suicide. This was a blatant attempt to direct blame elsewhere. Venezuela's “Chief Prosecutor” has declared there will be consequences to anyone who publicly says or insinuates that the SEBIN assassinated Alban.
Alban is just the most recent victim of this regime. The opposition party is of no help and is part of the problem because they don't do anything to stop what is going on and only want political power and control of the economy. In 2017, the security forces murdered more than 150 people that had protested against the regime, the majority of those people were young students that wanted a country where they could live in freedom.
The classic socialist tactic of eliminating ones adversaries — no matter the price — is common and repeated constantly.
On October 12, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Ernesto Díaz Cuello was jailed. The reason given by Jorge Rodriguez — one of the Regime's Capos — was that Diaz Cuello is guilty of treason to the homeland. Díaz Cuello is not a traitor. I know because I have had the opportunity to talk and share the stage with him as a speaker. He is just a retired military officer who speaks out against the regime and the crisis looming currently in Venezuela. Of course, he is a military man and comes from that background, but one of his proposals makes the government very uncomfortable. He advocates a transitional government to steer Venezuela out of its current crisis by adopting a Swiss-like government structure with the support of international security forces or the replication of Singapore’s experience.
However, Díaz Cuello is not the only military man in jail or accused of treason. In June, the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported more than 99 military officers and personnel were in jail or discharged from their duties because of treasonous activity and conspiracies against the regime, two generals are among the incarcerated. In addition, there is the case of Oscar Pérez, an ex-police officer who was leading a group of rebels that was massacred — despite the fact that they had already surrendered. This sort of thing is without precedent in Venezuela.
So, when people analyze the real history of socialism, it is important to understand the many systems that are swathed in blood. People, especially the young idealists, must recognize that "social democracy," "progressivism," or "social Christianism" often ends in the destruction of life and liberty for untold numbers of people. To open one's political and economic system to such a threat is like opening one's house to a serial killer.
Paul Volcker, the cigar smoking former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, literally and figuratively towers over his successors (he is reportedly 6'7"). Mr. Volcker is the the last Chair under whose tenure American savers could earn a decent rate of interest, the last Chair who demonstrated any meaningful political independence (clashing with presidents Carter and Reagan), the last Chair who really hated inflation, and the last Chair who eschewed the technocratic management of monetary policy. He's the last of the old-guard central bankers who saw monetary policy as a regulator and not a stimulus machine. As bad as he was on gold—as an undersecretary in Nixon's Treasury department he advocated the suspension of gold convertibility— Volcker was a gut-level banker who understood complex markets but also the concerns of average people. He was never a policy wonk with his head in the clouds.
Still active and robust at 91, he's written a new memoir documenting his long tenure at the central bank. If his comments (excerpted from the book) in this recent Bloomberg opinion piece are any indication, it should be a welcome refutation of technocratic monetary policy by his successors—particularly when it comes to the current bizarro-world understanding of inflation and deflation:
More recently, a remarkable consensus has developed among central bankers that there’s a new “red line” for policy: A 2 percent rate of increase in some carefully designed consumer price index is acceptable, even desirable, and at the same time provides a limit.
I puzzle about the rationale. A 2 percent target, or limit, was not in my textbooks years ago. I know of no theoretical justification. It’s difficult to be both a target and a limit at the same time. And a 2 percent inflation rate, successfully maintained, would mean the price level doubles in little more than a generation.
Who else in the world of central banking even mentions inflation these days, other than to tell us it's not a problem? Do any Fed or ECB economists think doubling prices on consumer goods every couple of decades is a good thing? Why do today's policy makers think prices are rising too slowly, a position totally at odds with the public? Volcker points out the absurdity of their thinking:
Yet, as I write, with economic growth rising and the unemployment rate near historic lows, concerns are being voiced that consumer prices are growing too slowly — just because they’re a quarter percent or so below the 2 percent target! Could that be a signal to “ease” monetary policy, or at least to delay restraint, even with the economy at full employment?
Certainly, that would be nonsense. How did central bankers fall into the trap of assigning such weight to tiny changes in a single statistic, with all of its inherent weakness?
Perhaps an increase to 3 percent to provide a slight stimulus if the economy seems too sluggish? And, if 3 percent isn’t enough, why not 4 percent?
I’m not making this up. I read such ideas voiced occasionally by Fed officials or economists at the International Monetary Fund, and more frequently from economics professors. In Japan, it seems to be the new gospel. I have yet to hear, in the midst of a strong economy, that maybe the inflation target should be reduced!
He also provides some very clear thinking about the bogeyman known as deflation. Systemic crises, in the form of deep recessions, are the danger—not falling prices. Of course deep recessions are deflationary, as banks, businesses, and households shed debt and lower consumption. But loose monetary policy, not Volckerian rate hiking, creates the biggest risk of a future systemic crises:
The lesson, to me, is crystal clear. Deflation is a threat posed by a critical breakdown of the financial system. Slow growth and recurrent recessions without systemic financial disturbances, even the big recessions of 1975 and 1982, have not posed such a risk.
The real danger comes from encouraging or inadvertently tolerating rising inflation and its close cousin of extreme speculation and risk taking, in effect standing by while bubbles and excesses threaten financial markets. Ironically, the “easy money,” striving for a “little inflation” as a means of forestalling deflation, could, in the end, be what brings it about.
Mr. Volcker's memoirs hopefully will serve as a much-needed corrective against the inanity of monetary policy today and a warning against the folly of what Nomi Prins calls "financial alchemy," the false belief that central bankers can conjure up prosperity using technical wizardry. Production, productivity increases, profit, and investment are the only way to create a truly prosperous and sustainable economy, and no amount of policy tinkering can change this. Volcker is not an Austrian, but he is someone who understands the threat to America's economic future posed by disconnected central bank policies. Fed officials, current and former, would be well-served to worry less about Donald Trump's tweets and more about their own reputations. As R. Christopher Whalen reminds us in this excellent analysis, "the greatest threat to the central bank’s existence is the tendency of Fed governors and economists to pursue abstract economic theories that make no sense in real world terms and often do more harm than good."
Let's hope Jay Powell reads Mr. Volcker's book.
Released to not much fanfare, Reuters has posted some very interesting interactive poll data on surveys showing the level of support for "the idea of your state peacefully withdrawing from the USA and the federal government."
Nationwide, overall opinion is heavily against with, among all people polled, 58 percent in opposition, and only 22 percent supporting. (Back in 2014, a poll showed 23.9 percent of Americans supporting secession.)
Results vary by region, however, with more than 60 percent opposing secession in the Southeast, Rocky Mountain, Great Plains, Great Lakes, and New England regions.
In the Far West (which includes California) and in the Southwest only 51 percent and 49 percent oppose secession, respectively.
The Southwest's numbers are bolstered significantly by the presence of Hispanics who apparently are much more sympathetic toward secession than the "white" (presumably "non-Hispanic white," since half of Hispanics consider themselves to be white) population.
Nationwide, 36 percent of Hispanics support secession while 42 percent oppose.
Looking just at Hispanics in the southwestern part of the country that have 20% or more Hispanic population (which therefore includes California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada, support is 35 percent and opposition is 42 percent.
But, in spite of the "Calexit" effort, it appears California Hispanics are more inclined to oppose secession than Hispanics in other states of the region.
If we exclude California (and thus measure Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada), 35 percent of Hispanics support secession, while only 38 percent oppose.
Of course, the data doesn't tell us the reason that Hispanics support secession more in this data. It's likely that the reasons vary.
Pew data has shown that among Hispanics polled, nearly as many self-identify as "libertarian" (11 percent) than is the case for Anglos (12 percent). Assuming that someone who self-identifies as libertarian is more likely to support decentralization and secession (something that isn't always true) then there's nothing shocking about these numbers.
Moreover, support for secession is higher among Hispanics regardless of whom they supported in 2016. Among those Hispanics who supported Clinton in 2016, support for secession is 33 percent in support of secession and 47 percent in opposition. Among everyone else, 22 percent support, and 63 percent oppose.
Nor is that all being driven by California Hispanics. Excluding California from these numbers, support for secession among Clinton-supporting Hispanics is even higher: 36 percent support, and 45 percent oppose.
And, among Trump-supporting Hispanics (which was 28 percent of voting Hispanics in 2016), secession almost wins a plurality: 45 percent support, and 47 percent oppose. But among non-Hispanic Trump supporters, support for secession is abysmal: only 19 percent support and 69 percent oppose.
It's hard to see any unifying theory here, although I'm old enough to remember the days when panicked Anglos spread the theory that most Mexican-Americans were plotting to secede and "rejoin Mexico" or found the new country of "Aztlan" which would be a ethno-state of Hispanics. (The fact that Mexican-Americans have an extremely varied racial make-up, however, is usually ignored.)
Given that all my maternal relatives are Mexican-Americans, though, I always found this little theory to be laughably tone-deaf. For the most part, the only Mexican-Americans who have interest in some sort of Mexican ethno-state or Mexican re-unification are University ideologues in Latino Studies departments. Among man-on-the-street Mexican-Americans, the level of support for a plot to "rejoin" Mexico is likely a tiny minority.
On the other hand, it is entirely possible that More Mexican-Americans (most of which are native-born, of course) simply have a more international view of things, and haven't quite imbibed the mythology of the US as "indispensable nation" (whether viewed through a left- or right-wing prism) to the same degree that the Anglo population has. It could be the idea of a future in an independent country or something independent from Washington, DC doesn't fill Mexican-Americans with the same terror it apparently fills Americans in the Southeast or New England.
In any case, I've just focused here on the Hispanic numbers in this Reuters survey because it interests me. Check it out, as you can also filter the results by a number of other variables, including religion, income, and more.