Book Review: The Euro

The Euro is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project by American economist Joseph Stiglitz. The book makes a case against many of the policies pursued by European leaders thus far and recommends several alternatives, including further integration, a flexible euro, and the exit of one or more members. The book is divided into twelve chapters which explore different aspects of the problem and possible solutions.

A short preface details Stiglitz’s view of the economic problems of Europe as being largely attributable to the creation of a single currency zone without the creation of other institutions that are found in other such places elsewhere in the world. He compares the euro to the gold standard, repeating the flawed mainstream view that deflation is bad. His Keynesian approach to economics and thoroughly statist worldview is apparent from the beginning. That being said, Stiglitz appears to want to solve problems and correctly identifies some people and institutions as being uninterested in doing so.

The opening section begins with a chapter that expands upon the preface and outlines the rest of the book. There is little here that is not covered in greater detail later, so let us move on. In Chapter 2, Stiglitz argues that the poor results of the euro should have been expected because economic integration of this sort cannot come before political integration. Here, he contends that military might no longer shapes outcomes as it once did, but this is dubious because nothing short of a nuclear exchange that no one wants could have stopped the United States from conquering and colonizing Iraq if that had been the intention and American leadership had used its full power. So too for Russia in Ukraine and Crimea. His responses to other arguments for a single currency make more sense. He states the fallacious mainstream position on public goods, claiming without logic or evidence that it is impossible for markets to provide basic research and common utilities. This amounts to a confusion of collective action with state action. Even so, Stiglitz does recognize that localization is better than central planning from afar, though his disdain for German policies makes him inconsistent on this point. He then turns to economic integration, discussing the importance of German history with hyperinflation and its prominent role in modern Europe for understanding the European Central Bank. Next, Stiglitz writes about effect that a shared currency has on economic integration, which is mixed. Like many Keynesians, he accuses the market of failure when this is actually impossible; such events are actually failures of government, resources, or individual people. He also regards economics as scientific, even though the scientific method cannot be applied to subjects in which counterfactuals are so important but also unobservable. As usual, the word ‘neoliberal’ says more about the person using it than anything else. He concludes by arguing that there is a democratic deficit in Europe, even though he argues elsewhere in the book against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy.

Europe’s lackluster economic performance since the 2008 crisis is the subject of the third chapter. Stiglitz begins by claiming that Keynesianism is a success because it has lengthened business cycles and shortened downturns, but it has also made the downturns that do occur so much worse that markets were better off before such interventionism. Much of the chapter consists of empirical data for Europe since 2007. When discussing unemployment, he seems not to recognize that unemployment benefits subsidize a negative behavior and will thus produce more of that behavior. Stiglitz relies upon the Gini coefficient when discussing inequality, which is a faulty metric because it measures pre-tax income rather than after-tax consumption. This causes it to exaggerate the amount of income inequality. His detailing of the long-term adverse effects of recession in terms of destroyed human capital is largely correct, but he again recommends interventionism that tends to worsen such problems. He also takes the position that the state should protect those at the economic bottom, though almost every economist would avoid social Darwinism on this front. Stiglitz then commits a fixed pie fallacy by arguing that trade surpluses necessarily cause trade deficits elsewhere, when the reality is quite different. He concludes by correctly noting that the counterfactuals help critics of the euro, and that there is no better explanation for many of Europe’s troubles than sharing a common currency across uncommon societies and economies.

The second section argues that the euro suffers from a flawed initial design. In Chapter 4, the requirements for a single currency region to be successful are considered. Here, Stiglitz uplifts full employment and market stability as goals while denouncing those who favor economic freedom as a “lunatic fringe.” This leads him to contemplate a false dilemma between national control of money and supranational control. He blames market fundamentalism (which he calls neoliberalism) for the crisis of 2008, despite the fact that markets were altered by central bankers in such a way as to cause the crash, which he all but says elsewhere. In explaining the differences between the United States and the eurozone, Stiglitz highlights the freer movement of Americans, the identity of Americans at the national level rather than the state level (at least in modern times), and the federal nature of monetary and fiscal stimulus. He is correct to say that there must either be “more Europe” or “less Europe,” but sides with the former. He describes the Keynesian theory of business cycles, but makes no mention of the Austrian theory. Stiglitz then repeats the tired fallacy that austerity caused the Great Depression and the current malaise, rather than central bank shenanigans and tariff policies. His blame for the gold standard is similarly misguided. He somewhat fixes an error from the previous chapter by clarifying that trade imbalances are not a problem if currency exchange rates can change to compensate for them. He straw-mans the laissez-faire position on unemployment by saying that it views unemployment due to market adjustments as good rather than as simply necessary. Stiglitz then gets a few points correct: low wages undermine worker morale and productivity, falling wages may not amount to falling prices if firms are worried about their solvency, and monetary stimulus has a breaking point at which interest rates cannot be lowered further. But he again blames the private sector for being excessive when it is only reacting to perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. There is little to fault in Stiglitz’s explanation of why currency areas are prone to crisis except for the preceding error, but it never occurs to him to simply not have such an area. The chapter ends by repeating many of the fallacious arguments from the previous chapter concerning trade surpluses and deficits.

The fifth chapter considers the economic divergence of the eurozone countries. Stiglitz argues in favor of institutional frameworks to prevent the need for bailouts, as well as funds to make depositors whole and provide bailouts. This ignores the moral hazard created by such a regime that causes bankers to take excessive risks, as well as the powerful incentives that an absence of protection would have on depositors to act responsibly and hold bankers accountable. His view of regulation is starry-eyed, missing the entire concept of regulatory capture. This is especially striking, given his focus on institutional capture in the following chapter. Stiglitz rightly complains of capitalized gains and socialized losses among bankers. In his consideration of other sources of divergence, he again fails to consider the possibility of turning over infrastructure to private development, instead proposing expansion of the European Investment Bank, which is certain to become another statist boondoggle. His view of knowledge markets is flawed in the same manner as his view of economies; it fails to account for the distortions that statism necessarily causes which lead to various types of failure. He concludes the chapter by showing how policies in the eurozone have caused greater instability, but cannot seem to avoid blaming the private sector for responding to the incentives imposed upon it.

In Chapter 6, Stiglitz examines the European Central Bank. He begins by saying that open markets and free competition can efficiently allocate resources only in the presence of adequate government regulation. This is a contradiction because an absence of government regulation defines an open market with free competition. His arguments concerning the inflation-only mandate of the ECB and the problems it causes would be much stronger if the Austrian business cycle theory were anywhere to be found in the book. His description of events in Chile under Pinochet does not agree with the long-term result of economic prosperity relative to the rest of South America and neglects how much worse conditions would have been under Salvador Allende. His claim that markets are supposed to be efficient and stable are a straw man; instability in the form of creative destruction and inefficiency by some metrics rather than others are inherent in a market economy. Stiglitz correctly writes that monetary policy is always a political question, pitting creditors against debtors for control of the central bank. But he leaves unclear how democracy is supposed to hold central bankers accountable. He also must not know any libertarians, or he would know that some people have proposed taking away spending power from governments to ensure that they do not misbehave. The chapter ends with a history of fashionable central bank policies over time and what was wrong with them from a Keynesian perspective.

The next two chapters delve into the Greek situation in particular, as Greece has suffered a more severe economic crisis than any other eurozone country. The seventh chapter explores the effect that the Troika’s policies had on countries in crisis. Stiglitz accuses some European leaders of acting in bad faith by purposefully attempting to punish governments with different political views from their own, which may be accurate. He continues his misguided attack on austerity, though it has more merit against what Europeans have actually done than against real austerity. He correctly explains the problem with primary surpluses, but then commits the broken window fallacy by embracing Keynesian multipliers. Stiglitz accurately diagnoses the problems of increasing taxes, but seeks to aid governments in collecting them rather than encourage economic freedom and stronger property rights. He describes his ideal system of property taxation in the same tone that a proud and unrepentant thief might use to boast of his crimes. Although he is correct to say that particular moves toward privatization and economic freedom may produce adverse results in particular contexts, this is a justification not for state intervention, but for undoing even more statism so as to remove the problematic context. Stiglitz notes that the hegemony of American military power has put Europe into a Pax Romana problem in which it cannot fend for itself against a real threat, but advises that this problem be worsened in the name of fiscal restraint. He compares reductions in pensions to wage theft when the two are clearly different. It is the responsibility of workers to figure out that they are being offered terms which may be impossible for the employer to meet in the future and practice caveat emptor. As for bank bailouts and debt restructuring, Stiglitz describes the situation well except for his faulty view of austerity.

Chapter 8 delves into structural reforms in Greece that made matters worse. Again, Stiglitz’s views of austerity and democracy corrupt an otherwise sound analysis of trivial and counterproductive actions taken by the Troika. He claims without proof that industrial policies are required to advance countries that are lagging behind in technological development, neglecting that markets are not doing this because they are either disallowed from doing so or are assuming that the state will do this for them. He criticizes intergenerational transmission of advantage and seeks to use the state against it, when it should be championed as both eugenic and important for maintaining a natural aristocracy. Stiglitz argues for a price on carbon emissions and claims that the private sector will not address climate change, when again the state has kept this from happening. He finishes by discussing counterfactuals, which is interesting given his empiricist thinking on economics.

The final four chapters deal with various proposals going forward. In the ninth chapter, Stiglitz offers his advice for fixing the eurozone. As before, he embraces what Henry Hazlitt called “the fetish of full employment” as the goal of his policy proposals. Much of the content of the chapter rehashes proposals from previous chapters. He seeks to create common deposit insurance and common resolution while abolishing place-based debt within the EU. This will create moral hazards and work against people who wish to escape debt slavery inflicted upon them by their ancestors. He calls for wages to be raised in countries with surpluses, which will lead to unemployment in those countries as workers whose labor is not worth higher wages are laid off. He fundamentally misunderstands precious metals, failing to understand their role as a store of value and medium of exchange, even if no longer officially used in such capacities. Stiglitz seeks to make the financial sector and other corporations serve society, but fails to recognize that the organs of a statist social order inherently and irrevocably serve themselves at the expense of the society. The shortsightedness of markets of which he complains is actually caused by the institutions that he seeks to use to solve the problem. One of the few sound recommendations made in this chapter is the creation of a super-Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure to quickly restructure debt. He goes on to propose that EU taxes be based on citizenship, and that some of the proceeds be used for foreign aid or resettlement of migrants, further impoverishing and culturally endangering Europeans.

Chapter 10 examines the possibility of what Stiglitz calls “an amicable divorce,” in which countries exit the eurozone. He considers the example of Grexit, or Greece returning to its own currency that he calls the Greek-euro but would probably be called the drachma, as it was before the euro. He proposes that Greece create a new electronic currency to ease concerns over producing coins and banknotes, stop tax avoidance, bring everyone into the financial system, and facilitate the ability of central banks to create credit. Stiglitz fails to consider that people are likely to reject such a system in favor of cryptocurrencies, which have all of the benefits of such a system without most of the drawbacks, and that such a system could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens. His view of credit indicates magical thinking, although this is quite common in modern financial circles. He again blames the private sector for problems caused by politicians and central bankers, while ignoring peer-to-peer lending as a substitute for modern credit systems. Stiglitz describes a potential system of credit auctions which could be abused with much the same ease as the current system. He admits and supports what should be abhorrent to any decent person: that fiat currencies are ultimately given value by extortion in the form of taxation. Stiglitz correctly says that a new Greek currency would enable them to devalue it to correct trade imbalances, but his proposed system of trade tokens for the same purpose would be redundant. He equates deflation with a deficiency of aggregate demand, neglecting the possibilities of an abundance of supply or improvements in efficiency and/or quality. His description of currency change as a debt restructuring is insightful. To end the chapter, Stiglitz considers the alternative of Germany leaving the eurozone, though it is unlikely that they would give up their current position of power so willingly. This segues into the topic of the next chapter, which is a flexible euro consisting of several subdivisions.

Stiglitz uses Finland as a counterexample against those who claim that profligacy in southern Europe is to blame, rather than the structure of the eurozone. Most of his argument here is correct, except for his view of austerity. His proposal in this chapter is to have several eurozones with fluctuating exchange rates, which could be brought closer together over time as political integration occurs, eventually resulting in economic integration. The details are borrowed from the previous two chapters. Though more likely to succeed than the proposals in those chapters, it is also the least likely to be adopted. Stiglitz correctly recognizes that having a single currency area is an interference in the market in and of itself, monopolizing exchange and interest rates in the area, but cannot seem to fathom that his flexible euro proposal also does this on a smaller scale. He claims that it can be better not to simply rely on prices for the allocation of resources, but does not explain how to solve the local knowledge problem or the economic calculation problem in a superior manner. He also says that history shows free banking to be a disaster, when the truth is quite the opposite.

The final chapter sees Stiglitz review many themes from previous chapters, but he also covers topics which are barely mentioned elsewhere. He denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe, which are only trying to resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. So much for the “democratic accountability” that Stiglitz extols in the same breath. He blames right-wing economic ideology for rising inequality in the United States beginning with the Reagan administration, but incomes really began to diverge ten years earlier, when Nixon ended the gold standard. Stiglitz expresses a desire to preserve the Enlightenment values of Europe, but cannot comprehend how letting in migrants with distinctly anti-Enlightenment values will jeopardize that mission. On the issue of trade policy, he understands that free trade is not always best for all parties involved, as it can destroy important societal arrangements that prevent conflict. But then Stiglitz incredulously asks how one could have expected that Europe’s leaders would create such economic dysfunction, with massive unemployment and lack of economic security. The answer is that a proper amount of cynicism would require such an expectation.

Overall, the best thing that can be said for the book is that it is not an effort made in bad faith. Stiglitz correctly identifies many of the problems with the current state of affairs in Europe and seems to want to help, but his proposed solutions are thoroughly misguided. Despite his palpable disdain for Milton Friedman and other Chicago School monetarists, he suffers from one of the worst of their faults: a desire to solve the immediate problems set before him combined with a lack of broader perspective. This leads him to propose a banking system which could be used to terrible effect against political dissidents, tax collection schemes that would indicate criminal intent in any non-statist context, and forced political integration by means of stealth and subterfuge. He also seems to believe that everything would be fine if only state power were used by the right people to implement the right policies. It never occurs to him that the power itself might be the problem. The Euro is an interesting case study in leftist economic thought, but those looking for real solutions to Europe’s economic woes should keep looking.

Rating: 2.5/5

On Consumerism, Corporatism, Time Preference, and Modernity

Consumerism

Capitalism is often blamed for consumerism. It is almost a certainty that whenever leftists run out of other arguments, they will make an argument related to consumerism. Consumerism is almost universally despised by people who have higher ideals, so it is easy to point out consumerism and then act as if it is an argument against capitalism. One reason for this is that socialism, the other major economic system in the modern world, eventually leaves people with nothing to consume, so capitalism is an easier target. But socialists make multiple critical errors in blaming capitalism for consumerism. While it is certainly true that capitalists benefit from a consumer culture, and that the capitalist system will not be toppled when people are attracted to consumer culture, this does not mean that capitalism as a system of free enterprise and private property is by necessity a cause of consumerism or oriented around consumerism. Furthermore, the capitalist class itself will be subject to consumerism and themselves be as hurt by it as anyone else.

When we look at why people engage in consumerism, we can see several major trends that cause consumerism. The first is having a corporate structure when it comes to enterprise. This means that for there to be consumerism there must be people who advance consumerism. There would be no consumerism if there were no beneficiaries of consumerism, and honest businesses do not need consumerism. Corporations are not honest businesses, as they hide behind a legal fiction created by the state. Without corporate structures, which are entirely constructed by the state, there is no party who would advance consumerism. Second, there must be people who are willing to engage in consumerism. Whereas people who have their lives figured out and have purpose beyond themselves do not turn to consumerism, these must be people who have nothing better to do than to consume. Such people see their lives as a series of capital transactions in which they seek immediate gratification. Consumerism cannot develop within healthy societies where people have cares beyond their own immediate interests. Third, consumerism requires that these people have money, as they cannot consume without first gaining access to a sufficient amount of capital. Thus, consumerism requires an abundance of consumer goods and services. Fourth, there must be a high social time preference within the society because people need to seek immediate gratification to value consumerism instead of being personally disgusted by engaging in consumerism. Finally, it is not only necessary that people have personal abundance, but that the capital structures that produce consumer goods are well-maintained. These capital structures will be maintained when people consume, but high time preferences will necessarily cause a form of stagnation, as there is insufficient investment to facilitate growth.

Corporatism

It is undeniable that the modern economy is largely driven by giant corporate structures, and it is similarly undeniable that these corporate structures are based on making as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. Making profit is not inherently bad, but it is necessary to account for time preferences. The strategy used by megacorporations once they have attained their status is not to build up a honest reputation and a good name as valuable providers of quality services, but rather to profit in the moment and then leverage this profit for future gain. This is why many corporations operate in debt; they hope that they can be propelled by their profit and obtain investors by providing the potential for returns. This has much to do with the nature of corporations. Corporations are entities partially separate from the people and property legally represented by them. They shield people from personal responsibility, which creates a wide range of perverse incentives. If businesses were fully accountable, then there could not be such a large amount of corruption within them or such a high time preference by them. Without the ability to sustain debt through lack of responsibility, businesses would have to lower their time preferences.

Not only does the state indirectly advance predatory business practices in allowing corporate structures to take shape, the state also directly allies with corporations. Whereas attempting to create a corporation without involving the state will have no effect, incorporation is a government program and a corporation is a public-private partnership. Furthermore, politicians are funded by corporations, and corporations get special benefits from the state as a return on their investment in political connections. The result is that the state has been overtaken by corporate power, and the two work symbiotically in order to enhance their parasitism upon the rest of society. The largest corporations need their licenses, privileges, regulations, and other such competition-stifling measures to maintain their position, while the state needs to have control over the economy to maintain its position. Corporations are the only entities that can truly ensure that the economy is not outside the state. The entire modern political system is based on a mutual reassurance between corporations and the state, and separating the two at this point will cause an economic collapse.

At the highest level of business, the image of the humble CEO or board manager who does what needs to be done is a misconception; the people who run megacorporations are not the most virtuous people. Big business is not oppressed, and is not some heroic figure from an Ayn Rand novel who is fighting against the state for the freedom to compete in the free market. Rather, through regulatory capture, big business uses state power to oppress small businesses and individuals who seek to compete with them. For these reasons, the corporation is a fundamentally anti-capitalist institution.

Time Preference

There are the situations in which the state directly incentivizes high time preferences. People who are struggling financially are far easier to control than those who are financially secure. By contrast, when people save money and accumulate wealth, they are less influenced by the state. The state can make use of this to artificially create and expand a consumer culture by inflating away savings. This is done by printing fiat currency that loses its value over time, then watching people impoverish themselves by using that currency. People may have an abundance of consumer goods, but they are constantly struggling financially and feel as if they are much poorer than they are. These reckless spending habits that are bound to impoverish the spenders are extremely beneficial to the state and the politically connected corporate elites. Furthermore, the state can tax people more on their purchases if they spend beyond their means. It will also create more possibilities for taxing artificially successful businesses when they inevitably expand due to the calculation with inflationary currency being favorable towards them. However, this is unsustainable and always results in an economic contraction. Unfortunately, the state can also exploit this by picking winners and losers, bailing out favored megacorporations, creating new social welfare programs, and expanding the grip of central banking over the economy.

Having high time preferences also leads to an economy based on debt, in which people spend more than they have, and both governmental and private institutions support this spending. Banks earn most of their income from this overspending and from people who are unable to pay them back in full. Due to this over-reliance on debt, the population as a whole is saddled with debt that can feel impossible to ever pay off, which can cause them to lose their motivation in life. The population will be easier to control by both the state and the banks that run this debt-based economy, as the agencies who provide the debt for the economy are the agencies who make the reliance on debt possible. Easy debt also leads to price inflation, as there is more market demand without a corresponding increase in market supply.

People get addicted to debt when they need to spend more than they have. However, this results in a problem when a person’s available collateral shrinks in comparison to their debt. They will eventually hit a wall where they can take no more debt unless and until they pay off their old debt. This is a debt trap in which people must repeatedly take on new debt to pay off old debt, all while interest accumulates and clearing their debt is impossible. This keeps people from being able to prosper, and the number of people trapped under such a burden is increasing. This, in turn, causes much greater class divides, as lower-class individuals who do not keep a store of capital that they can use for various ventures will be unable to make profitable investments. They will always be subject to one boss or another and will never experience true independence.

None of this is the fault of a capitalistic economy, but rather the high time preferences exhibited by the consumerists. On the contrary, capitalism is the most benevolent aspect of this situation, as it punishes the destructive habits of consumerism. These people are stuck in poverty not because of capitalism, but because of their own consumption habits amplified by state interference. Their lack of advancement is not an unfair punishment, but rather a sign that they should change their ways. This requires a particular mindset of growth and improvement that is most often stunted by public education and the degenerate culture which most people inhabit. This mindset requires that people actually trust the market signals they receive instead of seeing capitalism as a repressive entity. Escaping poverty requires a willingness to do what must be done instead of waiting for someone else to provide a handout. People who blame capitalism for holding them down while engaging in mindless consumerism are as children who eat too much candy, become ill, and also complain that they have too little candy.

Modernity

The modern society allows people to live a life without meaning. It removes church as a higher spiritual goal, community as a higher social goal, family as a higher personal goal, and even denies the importance of individual goals that a normal person might have. Through the lens of modernity, it is better to remain free and untethered rather than have a family. Looking out for one’s own interests at an individual or group level is derided as selfishness that ignores the greater good of society or hateful racism. By society, modernists do not refer to the disaffected small villages or the impoverished sections in urban communities that are in the greatest need of strong and healthy communities. Instead, they almost exclusively refer to a central state and imply that people are only worthwhile when they work for the state or when they work for nothing of value. They only see the state as a representative of society, with the only acceptable substitute to focusing on the state being pure hedonistic nihilism. Ironically enough, this mindset is most often heard coming from people who oppose capitalism on the basis of it being anti-social.

People are thus left without a greater meaning to work towards. They are left not providing for themselves, their family, or something else they hold dear. People are left as freely floating agents who are reduced to nothing other than consumers, and material pleasures are the only things that allow these people to tolerate the otherwise meaningless lives that they lead. They are not some great paragons of modernity, but rather embody the lowest state of rot and decay.

Conclusion

Consumerism is caused by progressivism, corporatism, and impatience. Capitalism is nowhere near the root cause of consumerism. Free enterprise and private property do not create such a propensity to consume over doing more meaningful things. The reason why consumerism is such a prevalent phenomenon is not because there is too much capitalism, but because people lack self-restraint or purpose and are encouraged by the state to live in such a manner.

Eliminate The Debt Ceiling

The United States debt ceiling is a limit placed on the amount of money that the federal government can borrow. This is done by placing a cap on the amount of national debt that can be issued by the US Treasury. About 99.5 percent of the debt is covered by this ceiling, but $238 million in United States Notes and $74 billion owed by the Federal Financing Bank as of September 2016 are not covered.

Because the ceiling applies to the total national debt rather than to annual deficits, and expenditures are authorized by separate legislation, the debt ceiling does not directly limit government spending. As the Government Accountability Office explains, “The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred.”

When this occurs and the ceiling is not increased by legislation, the Treasury must resort to “extraordinary measures” such as suspending investments into federal employee retirement funds or exchanging Treasury securities for non-Treasury securities. Should such measures be exhausted before Congress agrees to raise or suspend the ceiling, a default on at least some of the national debt would occur. Most mainstream economists believe that this could cause an economic depression as well as a financial crisis.

Whether the nature of this ceiling should be altered and whether such a limit should exist at all are subjects of debate among economists and political commentators. This article will overview the history of the debt ceiling, make the case that it should be eliminated on both practical and moral grounds, and deal with common objections to elimination.

History

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives Congress sole authority to borrow money on national credit. Between 1788 and 1917, Congress would pass legislation to authorize each bond issue by the US Treasury, with the particular amount specified in each legislative act. This would authorize specific loans in some cases, while in other cases the Treasury would be given discretion over which type of debt instrument to issue for specific purposes. Except for a short time in late 1835 and early 1836, the federal government has continuously had a national debt. Although there were parliamentary procedural rules concerning debt limits, there was no debt ceiling in the current form until 1917.

In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment and the Federal Reserve Act both became law, which greatly expanded the taxing and spending capabilities of the federal government. As originally defined, the Federal Reserve was not allowed to purchase debt instruments from the US Treasury because members of Congress understood the fiscal danger that could arise from granting such permission. The desire for financial flexibility regarding American involvement in World War I led Congress to pass the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917. This Act allowed the Treasury to issue bonds and take on other debt without specific Congressional approval, and allowed the Fed to purchase Treasury instruments. The debt ceiling was created as part of the deal to pass these changes, and took the form of limits on the aggregate amount of debt that could be accumulated through each category of debt, such as bills and bonds.

In 1939 and 1941, Congress passed the Public Debt Acts, which establish an aggregate limit on nearly all federal debt. Since then, the mechanism for raising the debt ceiling has been to amend these acts. The 1939 Act consolidated the separate limits from the 1917 Act into one limit, while the 1941 Act raised the debt ceiling to $65 billion, eliminated the tax exemption of interest and profit on government debt, and consolidated almost all government borrowing under the US Treasury. The Act was amended to raise the limit in each of the next four years, then the limit was reduced from $300 billion to $275 billion in 1946. Increases resumed in 1954, and there have been 72 increases and four decreases since then, with no decrease since 1963. As such, the debt ceiling has usually been a mere formality. After the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 created more opportunities for Congress to hold debates and hearings on the federal budget, the debt ceiling became less useful as a budgetary tool.[1] From 1979 to 1995, the Gephardt rule was in effect, which was a parliamentary rule that deemed the debt ceiling raised whenever a budget was passed, effectively nullifying the debt ceiling during that time. This rule was removed during the resolution of the 1995-96 government shutdown.

Treasury first implemented extraordinary measures on December 16, 2009 to avoid a government shutdown. Due to the lack of normal annual budgets during the Obama administration, Congressional Republicans used the debt ceiling as leverage for deficit reduction in 2011. This nearly caused a sovereign default, with Standard and Poor’s downgrading the United States credit rating and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 2,000 points in late July and August. The Government Accountability Office estimated that this incident raised borrowing costs for the government by $1.3 billion in 2011, and the Bipartisan Policy Center extrapolated this estimate to $18.9 billion from 2011 to 2020. The debt ceiling was reached again at the end of 2012, which led to the Treasury adopting extraordinary measures again, as well as far more absurd measures being proposed.

On February 4, 2013, President Obama signed the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013, which suspended the debt ceiling for the first time. This lasted until May 19. During that time, Treasury was authorized to borrow to the extent that “is required to meet existing commitments.” On May 19, the debt ceiling was raised to $16.699 trillion to accommodate borrowing performed during the suspension and extraordinary measures were resumed. In order to avoid a default when extraordinary measures were exhausted on October 17, the debt ceiling was suspended a second time until February 7, 2014. On February 12, the Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act suspended the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015, at which Treasury used extraordinary measures yet again. The debt ceiling was suspended again on October 30, 2015 until March 2017, and the suspension has been extended until the time of this writing.

Before And After

To begin making the case against the debt ceiling, let us consider the effect that having a debt ceiling has had on the national debt, which will show the effectiveness of the debt ceiling at reducing government spending over the long-term. Records begin in 1790, with the debt at the beginning of that year at $71 million. The debt grew to $127 million in 1816 from the War of 1812, then was steadily paid off until reaching zero in 1835. It would never be paid off again, growing gradually starting in 1836, then up to $68 million in 1851 as a result of the Mexican War. The next low was at $29 million in 1857. The Civil War caused an unprecedented debt, going from $91 million in 1861 to $2.77 billion in 1866, an increase of 2,962 percent. The next low was $1.55 billion in 1894, just before the Spanish-American War and other expansionist endeavors. The gradual growth during the early 20th century was accelerated by World War I, going from $3.06 billion in 1915 to $27.39 billion in 1919, an increase of 796 percent. Recall that the debt ceiling was instituted in 1917, with a national debt of $5.72 billion. The debt would be gradually paid off during the 1920s, reaching the next low of $16.8 billion in 1931. The debt grew again during the 1930s to fund government programs aimed at curtailing the Great Depression, reaching $48.96 billion in 1941. World War II ballooned the debt to $269.42 billion in 1946, an increase of 450 percent from 1941. The debt would never go below $250 billion again, gradually increasing past $300 billion in 1963. The Vietnam War accelerated the debt to $620.43 billion by 1976. In 1982, the national debt exceeded $1 trillion and has grown every year since 1958. On September 8, 2017, the debt passed the $20 trillion mark. Note that these figures do not include unfunded liabilities, which in recent times have become much larger than the official figure.

From 1790 to 1917, the debt increased by 7,946 percent, or 7.34 percent per year. From 1917 to 2017, the debt increased by 3,398 percent, or 8.5 percent per year. By this measure, the debt ceiling appears to be somewhat counterproductive for restraining spending, as the national debt has increased an additional 1.16 percent per year since its inception. However, one must be wary of cum hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. National debts are influenced by a great multitude of variables, and attributing this change to a single cause would be fallacious. The larger role played by the United States on the world stage, with the attendant expenditures on military presence and foreign aid, contribute a great deal to the debt, as do social welfare programs, which were nearly nonexistent before 1917.

Now And Later

To make a stronger case, we must consider the current effects of having a debt ceiling versus the likely effects of eliminating it. In the process, we will make use of the neoreactionary concept of formalism. This is the idea that in human affairs, official reality should match actual reality, the underlying power dynamics should be brought into the open, and accounting practices should be honest.

The recent history is that the debt ceiling is always raised to avoid running into it. Starting in 2013, the practice has become to suspend the ceiling entirely. It goes without saying that a ceiling which is always raised and can be made to disappear is not really a ceiling at all. The effect of this is for the state to continually take on more debt rather than pay its bills properly. This is politically convenient, as it allows politicians to bribe voters with the fruits of the labor of their unborn descendants while avoiding the backlash that inevitably results from austerity measures. To call this a Ponzi scheme is an insult to Ponzi schemes, as all of the beneficiaries and victims in those scams are willing investors. A private sector Ponzi scheme involves no inter-generational debt slavery or other forced participation.

Although even the most ardent deficit hawks are loathe to be blamed for a sovereign default, the threat that a default will occur in this manner spooks investors needlessly. As mentioned earlier, the Dow Jones dropped 2,000 points in response to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis. If investors are convinced that a default may happen in spite of the apparent unwillingness of politicians to cause a default, then the markets will be sent into turmoil for no good reason.

Eliminating the debt ceiling would be a change that moves official reality closer to actual reality on several counts. First, the opponents of fiscal restraint know that those who would use the debt ceiling as a tool to reduce government spending will always cave before a default, even if they do cause the occasional partial shutdown of government functions. For this reason, their bluff is always called and they lose the hand by playing the debt ceiling card. Removing this card from the deck not only takes away an ineffective option, but forces reformers to seek out other methods which may be effective.

Second, eliminating the debt ceiling would signal that the federal government has no interest in paying off its creditors. It should be obvious enough that an entity which increases its debt burden every year for 60 years does not have fiscal responsibility as an objective, but the Treasury seems to have no shortage of lenders, especially because the Federal Reserve serves as a lender of last resort. Note that because the federal government monopolizes law, declares itself immune from suit, and has the firepower to repel those who would seek to collect by force, it is not accountable for the national debt in an absolute sense. Accountability thus becomes an indirect, external affair which would be aided by the consequences of signaling the aforementioned truth to the world.

The admission of no intention of paying off the debt, which is essentially an admission that a default will eventually occur, would make interest rates rise. This would be necessary in order to compensate investors for the fact that they may lose their principal, or at least take a haircut on it at some future date. Aside from the obvious benefit to savers, who would see financial progress for the first time in over a decade, the increased spending on interest on the national debt would force a combination of tax increases and spending cuts in other areas. This would make current supporters of government programs pay more for them up front through taxation and inflation, constrain the pathologically undisciplined federal government, and reveal the true priorities of the power elite when decisions about whom to tax more and which expenditures to cut are taken. As such, it both brings the underlying power dynamics into the open and makes accounting practices more honest.

Objections

At this point, let us consider some likely objections. First, there is the possibility that having no debt ceiling would cause the debt to grow even faster. The above examination of the history of the national debt suggests that this objection is ill-founded, as the annual percentage increase has been higher with a debt ceiling in place. But even if it is true that eliminating the debt ceiling would accelerate the growth of the national debt, this is not necessarily bad. The faster the debt accelerates, the sooner the events described in the previous section will occur, meaning that the current unsustainable dynamics will be replaced earlier than they otherwise would.

A second objection is that this course of action may cause an economic collapse. This is entirely possible, but again, not necessarily bad. The end of the United States dollar would result in either a monetary reform and/or the replacement of government fiat currencies with something more sound, such as a gold-backed currency or a cryptocurrency. Because the US dollar is the world reserve currency, the US government can abuse its economic system more than other governments can. Losing this status would be another step toward forcing the government to behave more responsibly, as it would curtail the amount of debt that can be issued by reducing foreign demand.

The resulting collapse of the bond market leads to the third objection that this would cause a great amount of hardship. However, one must remember that the investors in government bonds have bought instruments which are funded by extortion and debt slavery. From a moral standpoint, those who lose on such investments deserve to lose. That being said, this course of action does not actually cause the collapse; rather, it makes the inevitable collapse occur more quickly.

Conclusion

The debt ceiling was created with the intention of limiting the ability of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to behave irresponsibly as they were allowed to provide more liquidity to fund World War I. But over the past century, quite the opposite has happened. The national debt has grown significantly faster than it did previously, and is now on a path toward default which is not reversible given current political realities. Eliminating the debt ceiling may seem like a counterproductive maneuver, but it would do much to formalize the true nature of the American fiscal situation. The only real debt ceiling is that established by lenders and creditors. When they deem a borrower to pose too much of a default risk, they stop lending and call in their debts, thus forcing the debtor to behave responsibly. The sooner this happens to the United States government, the better.

References:

  1. Kowalcky, Linda W.; LeLoup, Lance T. (1993). Congress and the Politics of Statutory Debt Limitation. Public Administration Review. 53 (1): p. 14.

A Consideration Of Helicopter Rides

In recent years, the meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. Let us consider the backstory of helicopter rides in order to better understand their use, ethics, and utility.

Socialism in Chile

In 1970, Socialist candidate Salvador Allende became President of Chile, winning a plurality of votes and allying with the third-place Christian Democrats to gain the necessary majority to rule. He was the first openly Marxist head of state in a Latin American country to come to power through democratic means. The CIA and KGB both spent significant amounts of money to interfere in the election.

Once in power, Allende’s government took over control of large-scale industries, health care, and education. He expanded government theft and redistribution of land initiated by his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, such that no estate exceeded 80 hectares (198 acres) by the end of 1972.[1] Payment of pensions and grants resumed, and social programs were greatly expanded. The arts became funded by the state. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were restored, and political prisoners were released. Price fixing for bread, wages, and rent occurred. Taxes on small incomes and property were eliminated. College was made tuition-free. The voting age was lowered to eighteen and literacy requirements were removed. Between October 1970 and July 1971, purchasing power increased 28 percent.[2] In that year, inflation fell from 36.1 percent to 22.1 percent, while average real wages rose 22.3 percent.[3]

Like all socialist experiments, the short-term results were good. But as Margaret Thatcher would later observe, “Socialist governments…always run out of other people’s money.” Government spending increased 36 percent from 1970 to 1971.[3] The national debt soared and foreign reserves declined. Declining prices in copper, Chile’s chief export commodity, only worsened matters. Black markets in staple foods emerged as rice, beans, sugar, and flour disappeared from store shelves. The Allende government announced its intent to default on debts owed to international creditors, including foreign governments. Strikes began in 1972, to which Allende responded by nationalizing trucks to keep truckers from halting the economic life of the nation. The courts intervened and made Allende return the trucks to their owners.

By the summer of 1973, Allende’s government was ripe for overthrow. On June 29, Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the presidential palace with a tank regiment but did not succeed in overthrowing Allende. In May and again in August, the Supreme Court of Chile complained that the Allende government was not enforcing the law. The Chamber of Deputies accused Allende of refusing to act on approved constitutional amendments that would limit his socialist plans, and called on the military to restore order. Following embarassment and public protest, General Carlos Prats resigned as defense minister and commander-in-chief of the army, being replaced in the latter post by General Augusto Pinochet. Allende accused the Congress of sedition and obstruction, and argued that the accusations were false.

The Chilean Coup

On September 11, 1973, the Chilean Navy captured Valparaiso by 7:00 a.m. They closed radio and television networks in the central coast. Allende was informed of this, and went to the presidential palace. By 8:00, the army closed most broadcast stations in the capital of Santiago, while the Air Force bombed the remaining active stations. Admiral Montero, the Navy commander and an Allende loyalist, was cut off from communication. Leadership of the Navy was transferred to Jose Toribio Merino, who worked with Pinochet and Air Force General Gustavo Leigh in the coup. The leaders of the police and detectives went to the palace with their forces to protect Allende. Allende learned the full extent of the rebellion at 8:30 but refused to resign. By 9:00, the armed forces controlled all but the city center in Santiago. The military declared that they would bomb the palace if Allende resisted. Allende gave a farewell speech, and Pinochet advanced armor and infantry toward the palace. Allende’s bodyguards fired at them with sniper rifles, and General Sergio Arellano Stark called in helicopter gunships to counter them. The palace was bombed once Air Force units arrived. At 2:30, the defenders surrendered and Allende was found dead by his own hand.

Following the coup, the military killed around 3,000 leftists and imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile. Ninety-seven of those killed were eliminated by the Caravan of Death, a Chilean Army death squad that flew by helicopters in October 1973. The squad, led by General Stark, would travel between prisons, ordering and carrying out executions. The victims were buried in unmarked graves. This is one origin of the meme of helicopter rides, though squads other than Stark’s were responsible for the literal act referenced, having thrown 120 civilians from helicopters into the ocean, rivers, and lakes of Chile.

Peronism in Argentina

In 1946, Juan Perón of the Labor Party became President of Argentina. The majority of the Radical Civic Union, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the conservative National Autonomist Party had formed an unusual alliance against him, but lost by 10 percent. His two stated goals upon becoming President were economic independence and social justice, but he had no serious plans to achieve those goals other than to attempt to hire the right advisors and underlings while refusing to side with the US or the USSR in the Cold War. Perón was intolerant of both leftist and rightist opposition, firing more than 1,500 university faculty who opposed him[4], shuttering opposition media companies, and imprisoning or exiling dissident artists and cultural figures.

Perón’s appointees encouraged labor strikes in order to obtain reforms for workers, which aligned large business interests against the Peronists. Upper-class Argentine’s resented Perón’s reforms, feeling that they upset traditional class roles. He nationalized the central bank, the railroads, public transport, utilities, universities, and merchant marine. He created the Institute for the Promotion of Trade (IAPI), which was a state monopoly for purchasing foodstuffs for export. Average real wages rose by 35 percent from 1945 to 1949,[5] while during that same period, labor’s share of national income rose from 40 percent to 49 percent.[6] Healthcare and social security were made nearly universal during Perón’s first term. GDP expanded by over 25 percent during this time,[4] which was largely due to spending the $1.7 billion in reserves from surpluses from World War II.

The economic success of Perón’s reforms would not last. The subsidized growth led to an import wave that erased the surplus by 1948. A debt of roughly $650 million owed by Great Britain to Argentina went mostly unpaid, further complicating matters.[4] The Argentine peso was devalued 70 percent between 1948 and 1950, leading to declining imports and recession. Labor strikes began to work against Perón, who responded by expelling the organizers from the unions and calling for a constitutional reform in 1949.

Perón faced no serious opponent for his 1951 re-election campaign, despite being unable to run with his wife Eva, who had fallen ill and would die the following year. Exports fell as low as $700 million in 1952, producing a $500 million trade deficit. Divisions among Peronists grew, and many of Perón’s allies resigned. He accelerated construction projects and increased rank and pay to top generals in an effort to reduce tensions. After Eva’s death, opposition to Perón intensified. On April 15, 1953, terrorists bombed a public rally of Perón supporters, killing seven and injuring 95. He responded by asking the crowd to retaliate. They responded by burning down the Jockey Club building and the Socialist Party headquarters.

In March 1954, Perón had to replace his Vice President, and his preferred choice won in a landslide. This, combined with stabilized inflation rates, motivated him to create new economic and social policies. This brought in foreign investment from automakers FIAT, Kaiser, and Daimler-Benz, as well as from Standard Oil of California. But Perón’s legalization of divorce and prostitution turned the Roman Catholic Church against him, which excommunicated him in June 1955. Perón responded by holding a public rally, and for the second time it was bombed, this time by Navy jets that fled to Uruguay afterward. 364 people were killed, and Peronists again carried out reprisals by attacking eleven churches. This led to the coup that ousted Perón on September 16, performed by nationalist Catholics in the Army and Navy led by General Eduardo Lonardi, General Pedro E. Aramburu, and Admiral Isaac Rojas. Perón barely escaped to Paraguay.

Resistance, Return, and Repression

Shortly afterward, Peronist resistance movements began organizing among disgruntled workers. Democratic rule was partially restored, but political expression for Peronists was still suppressed, so guerrilla groups began operating in the 1960s. Early efforts were small and quickly quashed, but more successful movements formed toward the end of the decade. The Peronist Armed Forces (FAP), Marxist–Leninist-Peronist Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and the Marxist–Leninist Armed Forces of Liberation (FAL) were the three major players before 1973. The FAR joined an urban group of students and intellectuals called the Montoneros, while the FAL and FAP merged into the Marxist People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP).

In 1970, the Montoneros captured and killed Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, a military leader in the 1955 coup. In a few years, such events happened on a weekly basis, as did bombings of military and police buildings. Some civilian and non-government buildings were also bombed. Juan Perón returned from exile and became President again in 1973, and sided with the right-Peronists and the government against the left-Peronists. He withdrew support of the Montoneros before his death in 1974. His widow Isabel Martinez de Perón became President after his death, and she signed a number of decrees in 1975 to empower the military and police to defeat the ERP and other such groups. The right-wing death squad known as Argentine Anticommunist Alliance emerged at this time. Isabel was ousted by a coup in 1976, and the military took power. Up to this time, leftists had killed 16,000 people in their guerrilla efforts. The United States government financially backed the Argentine military, while the Cuban government backed the left-wing terror groups.

The juntas that held power between 1976 and 1983 repressed leftist dissidents, being responsible for arresting, torturing, and/or killing between 7,000 and 30,000 people. Many were Montoneros and ERP combatants, but others were civilians, students, left-wing activists, journalists, intellectuals, and labor organizers. Some of those executed were thrown from airplanes to their deaths in the Atlantic Ocean, providing another basis for the meme of helicopter rides. The worst repression reportedly occurred in 1977, after the guerrillas were largely defeated. The junta justified its action by exaggerating the threat and staging attacks to be blamed on guerrillas.

The “National Reorganization Process,” as it was called, failed in its efforts to suppress the left. As the roundup was overbroad, it sowed resentment. Some of those arrested had done nothing other than witness others being arrested in public places. Severe economic problems only added to civil unrest. The military tried to regain popularity by occupying the Falkland Islands, but their defeat by Britain in the Falklands War led them to step aside in disgrace and restore democracy.

Aftermath in Chile

In Chile, Pinochet remained in power until 1990. His 1980 constitution remains in effect, though significantly amended in 1989 and 2005 and slightly amended on eleven other occasions. In the 1990 elections, a coalition of democratic and socialist parties with the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin at the head was successful. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of Allende’s predecessor, led the coalition from 1994 to 2000. The Socialist Party and Party for Democracy led the coalition from 2000 to 2010. The center-right National Renewal won in 2010, but the Socialist Party regained power in 2014.

During Pinochet’s rule, Chicago School economists influenced the regime to adopt free market policies. Despite the prevalence of leftists in power since Pinochet’s rule ended, many of his economic reforms have remained in place and the economy is among the freest in the world. Aylwin and Ruiz-Tagle increased spending on social programs and reformed taxes, but avoided radical changes. Chile managed to avoid serious impact from the Mexican peso crisis of 1994 by using capital controls.

Aftermath in Argentina

In Argentina, voters elected Raul Alfonsin of the center-left Radical Civic Union once democracy was restored in 1983. He both created a commission to investigate forced disappearances and passed an amnesty law that stopped the investigations until 2005. His administration was unstable due to friction with the military and economic issues, leaving office early to let Peronist candidate Carlos Menem take office early after winning in 1989. Though he privatized many industries that Perón nationalized, he expanded both executive power and the role of the state in the economy. He won again in 1995, but the Radical Civic Union was growing and a new alliance called FrePaSo formed. By 1999, all three major parties supported free market economics. UCR and FrePaSo allied behind Fernando de la Rua to defeat Peronist Eduardo Duhalde. After some resignations and turmoil, Duhalde would get his chance in 2002. He managed to bring inflation under control, then called for elections in 2003. This brought another Peronist, Nestor Kirchner, to power. He overturned the 1986 amnesty for members of the military dictatorship and oversaw a strong economic recovery. His wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, took over in 2007. She distanced herself from traditional Peronism after Nestor’s death in 2010, favoring instead the La Campora movement that reveres the Montoneros guerrilla group. In 2015, her party lost to Mauricio Macri and his Republican Proposal party, which was allied with the Radical Civic Union.

The governments from the 1930s to the 1970s used import substitution to increase industrial growth, but this came at the expense of agricultural production. Import substitution was ended in 1976, but growth in government spending, inefficient production, and rising national debt led to inflation problems in the 1980s. The government responded to inflation in the 1990s by auctioning state-owned companies and pegging the Argentine peso to the US dollar. De la Rua followed an IMF-sponsored economic plan to deal with the government budget deficit, but an economic collapse occurred at the end of 2001. The peso was devalued again, and recovery occurred by 2005. A judicial ruling in 2012 led to a selective default in 2014 that was resolved in 2016.

Contemporary Application

Now that the context from which the meme of helicopter rides emerges is understood, we may consider its potential application against contemporary leftist rulers and agitators. Helicopter rides for political enemies are a form of ultraviolence, which is the use of force in an excessive and brutal manner as a public display to make an example out of a particular person or group. This is done for the purpose of establishing dominance and suppressing rivals within a territory, from which peace and order may follow. Utilized correctly, this will break the spirit of resistance movements and solidify one’s hold on power, which will prevent further death and destruction that would otherwise occur from terrorism and civil war. If misused, whether by subjecting overbroad numbers of people to cruel punishment or by utilizing methods that the population deems to be completely beyond the pale, ultraviolence will create resentment that will resurface later as another, stronger resistance movement. Misuse will also have a negative psychological impact on the perpetrators, causing them to lose their humanity through the commission of needless atrocities.

The above examples of Chile and Argentina suggest that ultraviolence by rightists against leftists appears to be insufficient to counter the leftward slide that naturally occurs in politics over time. One possible reason for this is that a continual march leftward is the political variant of entropy, the physical process by which the universe becomes increasingly disordered and chaotic over time. If so, this would explain why all great civilizations eventually fall and all attempts by right-wing movements to use the state to advance their agendas fail to produce lasting change. Another potential explanation is that the state is an inherently leftist institution, in that the nature of the state is to allow some people to do with impunity that which would be considered criminal if anyone else behaved identically, and the nature of the left is to disrespect individual rights in favor of their view of the collective good. This meshes well with Robert Conquest’s second law of politics; any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. A third explanation is that power does what it wants due to its inherent lack of accountability, meaning that a military junta has no real incentive to limit its removal of leftists to those whom have actually committed crimes. Thus, the use of helicopter rides naturally becomes overbroad when coupled with the state, and the distrust and resentment that fuels a revolution against the military government naturally follow.

Many alt-rightists who suggest the use of helicopter rides to eliminate their political rivals do not understand the above context with sufficient clarity. This leads them to long for the day when they get to pilot a massive fleet of helicopters that drops their enemies from staggering heights. For their stated goals, helicopter rides are a tool not fit for purpose, as the cost of helicopters, fuel, and pilots far exceeds that of other methods of physical removal. Helicopter rides as historically practiced also fail at performing ultraviolence, as rumors of helicopter rides pale in comparison to theatrical executions carried out in the public square on live television. The obvious retort that the victims should be dropped onto a hard surface in the public square is likely to fail by being too gruesome for the public to stomach. And ultimately, no matter how many leftists are killed, their ideas and the state apparatus to implement them remain. Overall, the alt-right approach fails because its adherents seek to use the ultimate enemy (the state) against the proximate enemy (the left) without any intention or plan to eliminate the ultimate enemy afterward, which results in long-term losses for short-term gains.

Moral Issues

While the alt-right seeks to misuse the practice of helicopter rides, libertarians and leftists tend to decry the idea as mass murder. The leftists will typically assert that the use of deadly force against someone who does not pose a deadly threat at the moment is murder. But the immediate danger doctrine, as it is known in legal circles, is a standard used by the state to perpetuate itself by creating an artificial demand for its functions of legislation, security, criminal justice, and dispute resolution while rendering the population dependent and irresponsible. Such a standard is not provable from first principles and is clearly at odds with libertarian theory on the use of force.

Libertarian theory allows one to use any amount of force necessary to not only defend oneself against aggressors, but to make people who refuse to perform restitution do so, to stop people who recklessly endanger bystanders, to reclaim stolen property, and to eliminate crime bosses and other unrepentant aggressors. While this does not allow for the full extent of the helicopter rides given by the militaries of Chile and Argentina, it can allow for statists who held power and those who carried out certain acts of aggression on their orders to be executed. Of course, rightists who wield state power (or libertarians who wield private power) in an overzealous manner against leftists would also be legitimate targets for helicopter rides if they kill people who have not committed crimes worthy of death.

A more appropriate libertarian use of helicopters is not to execute anti-libertarians by throwing them out, but to transport them out of a libertarian-controlled territory and warn them not to return. Exile and ostracism, after all, are perfectly legitimate exercises of property rights and freedom of association. Furthermore, removing people who advocate against the norms of a libertarian social order from a libertarian community is a necessary preservation mechanism, but such removal need not be fatal unless all reasonable efforts that do not involve deadly force have been tried without success.

Conclusion

There is a rich historical context behind the idea of helicopter rides for leftist agitators. Unfortunately, most modern advocates of such methods do not understand this context, which leads them to make recommendations which do not align with reality. Though leftists and some libertarians decry all uses of helicopter rides as murder, there are cases in which such acts are morally justifiable.

References:

  1. Collier, Simon; Sater, William F. (2004). A History of Chile, 1808–2002. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Zipper, Ricardo Israel (1989). Politics and Ideology in Allende’s Chile. Arizona State University, Center for Latin American Studies.
  3. Larrain, Felipe; Meller, Patricio (1991). The Socialist-Populist Chilean Experience, 1970-1973. University of Chicago Press.
  4. Rock, David (1987). Argentina, 1516–1982. University of California Press.
  5. Dufty, Norman Francis (1969). The Sociology of the Blue-collar Worker. E.J. Brill Publishing.
  6. Dornbusch, Rüdiger; Edwards, Sebastian (1991). The Macroeconomics of populism in Latin America. University of Chicago Press.

On the Supply Objection to the Gold Standard

Since the gold standard was abandoned in 1971, many people have sought to return to such a standard in order to combat inflation and rein in central banks. Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking present several criticisms of this approach. One of these criticisms is particularly nonsensical, but occurs with increasing frequency: that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. Let us address this question from a scientific standpoint, return to economic matters, and address the claimed effects.

Physical Limits

Let us begin by finding the absolute limit of what gold can do for a monetary system. As the United States dollar is the world reserve currency at the time of this writing, it makes sense to use it as the currency to peg to gold. The smallest unit of gold is the atom, and the smallest unit of dollars is the penny. The most extreme possible case would be to set one penny equal to one atom of gold. What would this look like in practice? Any basic text on chemistry can lead us to the answer. The only stable isotope of gold is Au-197, and its molar mass is 196.967. This means that in about 197 grams of gold, or 6⅓ troy ounce coins of the type minted by many governments and private mints, there will be Avogadro’s constant of atoms, which is 6.022140857×10^23. Setting one penny equal to one atom of gold, this is $6.022×10^21 or $6.022 sextillion easily fitting in one’s hand.

This amount of money is so large that people cannot truly understand it due to the lack of a frame of reference for it. Few people will handle anything beyond millions of dollars at any point in their lives. Large businesses may deal with billions of dollars. The most powerful governments have budgets in the trillions of dollars. According to a History Channel documentary, the dollar value of the entire planet is in the quadrillions of dollars, checking in at $6,873,951,620,979,800, and subtracting Earth’s gold content leaves $6,862,465,304,321,880. As the limit of one penny per atom allows one to hold the current market value of a million Earths in one’s hand, it is clear that science imposes no physical limit to make a gold standard infeasible.

Another useful exercise is to try setting the value of all available gold equal to the value of the rest of the planet. The total available gold content at present amounts to 186,700 metric tons. Defining this amount of gold to be worth the above figure of $6,862,465,304,321,880 gives a gold price of $36,756.64 per gram or $1,143,259.40 per troy ounce. This is very expensive by current standards, but current standards do not come close to economizing the entire planet. The actual price would therefore be far lower than this, but this exercise is useful for setting an upper bound.

Current Prices

Perhaps critics of restoring sound money mean to say that the gold standard could not be reintroduced at current gold prices. In this, they are correct; at the time of this writing, gold trades at $1,284 per troy ounce. Multiplied by the 186,700 metric tons of gold available, this gives $7.707 trillion of gold-backed currency, which is not enough for the United States economy, let alone the entire world. The solution, then, is to devalue fiat currencies to fit the available gold supply. According to the CIA World Factbook, the gross world product in 2015 was $75.73 trillion. Covering this with the available gold gives a gold price of $12,616.75 per troy ounce, which is an order of magnitude above current prices, but not outlandish.

Possible Effects

Gold has gained several practical applications in recent times, particularly in medicine and technology. Critics claim that returning gold to monetary use would devastate these industries, along with the jewelry industry. In each case, critics are overreacting. Research toward creating substitutes which work nearly as well in electronics is promising. Gold salts in medicine have numerous side effects, monitoring requirements, limited efficacy, and very slow onset of action. Finally, there is no particular reason why we should care about an industry that produces impractical novelties to the extent of protecting it through fiat currency. It would be better to free up jewelers to do something more productive and helpful to others.

The other major criticism is that returning to a gold standard will cause a harmful episode of deflation. Paul Krugman writes,

“[W]hen people expect falling prices, they become less willing to spend, and in particular less willing to borrow. After all, when prices are falling, just sitting on cash becomes an investment with a positive real yield – Japanese bank deposits are a really good deal compared with those in America — and anyone considering borrowing, even for a productive investment, has to take account of the fact that the loan will have to repaid in dollars that are worth more than the dollars you borrowed.”

But those who are less willing to spend or borrow are necessarily more willing to save, which will allow them to spend more later or fund new businesses and investments. There is also the matter that one cannot hold out forever; one must eventually purchase goods and services. That the technology industry thrives despite producing the most deflationary goods shows that there is nothing harmful about this. It turns out that the value of using a current computer over the next year is worth more than holding out for a more powerful computer next year. It is also true that holding out for more food next month does not work if one cannot survive until then without food now. One may object that this would concentrate wealth in the hands of those who can hold out, but this is a feature rather than a bug because it redistributes resources to those who have been good stewards of resources.

Those who have already borrowed face a larger debt burden in a deflationary environment, and though creditors experience an equal gain, creditors are unlikely to increase their spending to offset the reduced spending of debtors. But again, this is a feature rather than a bug because it incentivizes saving over borrowing while pushing some debtors into default, thus punishing unwise lenders with loss of principal and unwise borrowers with bad credit ratings.

With falling prices, profits and wages usually have to fall as well. But profits are a function of prices and costs, which are also prices. This leaves profits largely unaffected on a percentage basis. Wages are prices as well, and the need to cut nominal wages in a deflationary environment could both incentivize firms to release their worst employees and provide pushback against minimum wage laws.

Finally, there is the belief that the sort of deflation that may be caused by returning to gold would cause a recession. But the above rebuttals deprive this problem of any mechanism by which it might occur. In fact, the empirical evidence suggests that deflation is linked to economic expansion, as occurred in the United States during the 19th century. The only period in which a correlation between deflation and depression does appear is the Great Depression (1929-34), and this may be linked to the central bank policies of the 1920s, which fraudulently inflated the money supply beyond the set gold exchange rates of the time.

Conclusion

While a free market in money would be the most desirable condition from a libertarian perspective, returning to a gold standard is a superior option to that of allowing fiat currency and central banking to continue as they are. The concerns about a lack of gold supply for returning to a gold standard are without merit, and the fears of deflation and devastation to industry are unfounded.

25 More Statist Propaganda Phrases

In the discourse of statists, there is a group of phrases of which one or more tend to be present in nearly every argument. The previous listing of twenty-five such phrases was a major hit, so here are twenty-five more of the most common phrases that statists use in their arguments. As propaganda has a tendency to be repetitive, some of these phrases contain the same logical fallacies, and will therefore have similar refutations. As such, the phrases are ordered so that earlier rebuttals also apply to some later phrases.

  1. Give back to the community”

This phrase is used by people who want business owners to support local charities or help the needy directly. There is nothing wrong with this sentiment. In fact, it is more likely to be efficient and effective than a government welfare program, and it is certainly morally superior. Private charity operations must compete for donations, which incentivizes them to be more efficient and effective in their efforts. They also have a better sense of who can be helped out of poverty versus who will only exist parasitically upon the good will of others. But the phrase ‘giving back to the community’ is misguided and dangerous.

That one is giving back something to people implies that one has taken away something from those people. This can lead to a perception of legitimate business owners as thieves who do not rightfully own what they have, when the truth is quite the opposite. To the extent that businesses in a free market thrive, they do so by voluntary trade. They give customers what they want at prices they deem reasonable. The customer wants the business owner’s products more than he wants his money, while the business owner wants the customer’s money more than he wants his products. They trade assets and both are improved from their subjective points of view. As such, a business is always giving to the community, and its profits are evidence of the value that its customers have received from the business.

If the charitable nature of business ended there, it would be good enough, but there is more. A successful business will be able to employ people. This allows people to accept a constant rate of payment for work done without having to take on the capital risks of starting and running a business oneself. Additionally, this gives the poor and the mentally deficient, who cannot start their own businesses, a path to prosperity and a sense of dignity.

The idea that such benevolent activity to improve one’s community is somehow exploitative of that community is nothing short of communist propaganda and should be rejected as such. Businesses that donate to charities are not ‘giving back to the community’; they are giving the community even more.

  1. Pay your fair share”

Phrases 2-7 are used by progressives who want to intervene in the market economy and make the wealthy pay more taxes. This is wrong on two counts. First, taxation would be considered robbery, slavery, trespassing, communicating threats, receipt of stolen money, transport of stolen money, extortion, racketeering, and conspiracy if anyone other than government agents behaved identically. An objective moral theory must be consistent, so it can be no respecter of badges, costumes, or affiliations. What is immoral for you and I to do must also be immoral for government revenuers to do. Second, the rich already pay the vast majority of the tax revenue collected, while many poor people pay nothing. If “pay your fair share” is to be logically consistent, then all of the poor should be taxed at least to some extent.

  1. Income inequality”

The income inequality generated by a free market is a feature, not a bug. People have different degrees of expertise, intelligence, and motivation, which results in different ability to earn income. This results in the people with the most resources being the people who are best at acquiring, defending, and properly investing those resources. This ultimately benefits everyone because it allows innovations to move past the initial stage, at which only the rich can afford them, and become inexpensive enough for mass adoption. To the extent that income inequality is a problem, it is due to state interference in the form of currency debasement and regulatory capture.

  1. Society’s lottery winners”

This is an open insult to the hard work that business owners have put into their firms to make them successful. A lottery winner invests money in a manner which one may expect to be wasteful and happens to get unearned wealth. A business owner invests both money and labor in a manner which one may expect to be productive, and some earn wealth.

  1. You didn’t build that”

The idea behind this phrase is that someone else built the infrastructure upon which a business relies in order to interact with its customers and make profits. But those who use this phrase make an unjustifiable logical leap from there to assert that a business owner should pay taxes to the state in return for that infrastructure. The problem is that the state monopolizes the infrastructure and forces people to pay for it, in many cases without regard for how much they use it, if at all. People should pay for what they use, but it is immoral to force people to pay for what they are forced to use. In a free society, the infrastructure would be privately owned and voluntarily funded. Those who say that the state must provide infrastructure, and in turn that people must pay taxes for it, have an unfulfilled burden of proof that they frequently shift, committing a logical fallacy.

  1. Gender pay gap”

Those who obsess over this issue point to an overall disparity in pay between men and women and conclude that some kind of unjustifiable gender discrimination must be occurring. But to some extent, a gender pay gap results from the natural differences between the genders. Intelligence testing shows that while the average intelligence level is almost the same for both genders, the standard deviation is much higher for males. This means that geniuses and dunces are both disproportionately male, which females are more likely to be of average intelligence. This makes sense from an historical perspective; in traditional societies, some men were planners and inventors, other men were manual laborers, and women were the support staff for both groups. (There were occasional deviations from this, but they were the exception and not the rule. The NAXALT objection is a sign of political autism and should be denounced as such.) As the highest-paying jobs tend to require great intelligence, and people with great intelligence tend to be male, it follows that a gender pay gap would result. Males tend to have more strength and toughness than females, and the nature of human procreation makes males more disposable. This grants males an advantage in taking high-risk jobs which have hazard pay bonuses, resulting in a gender pay gap. Behavioral differences between the genders, which are also partly genetic in origin, produce a difference in the ability to negotiate for higher salaries.

Another problem with the progressive narrative on gender and pay is that they look only at the aggregate and do not compare like cases. When two workers in the same profession who are equal in every measurable way except for their genders are compared, such disparities do not appear. In some cases, women even earn a few percent more than men when this is taken into account. Part of the reason for the aggregate pay gap is that women choose to work in different fields from men, and these fields do not pay as much.

Although baseless misogyny (and misandry) do occur, its elimination would only reduce the gender pay gap; it would not result in equal pay.

  1. Social justice”

The idea of social justice is that the state should ensure fair distribution of wealth and social privileges, equal opportunity, and equality of outcome. The implication is always that the current conditions are socially unjust. This idea has several major problems. Who defines what is fair, and why should they be allowed to define it? If opportunities and outcomes should be equal, who must make them equal? If an injustice is present, who is the subject of the injustice?

Fairness is a subjective concern, and should therefore be determined by those who are closest to an interaction, i.e. those who are directly involved or affected. As long as all parties to a interaction participate voluntarily and no external party is aggressed against, all involved may deem the interaction fair and the matter of its fairness should be considered resolved. But in social justice rhetoric, the idea of fairness is an excuse to stick one’s nose in where it does not belong and interfere in matters which are none of one’s business. Because doing this successfully involves initiating the use of force against peaceful people and all wealth and privilege can be traced back to a series of interactions, social justice perverts the idea of fairness into something intrusive and unfair.

Equal opportunity and equal outcome are advocated by right-wing and left-wing ideologues, respectively, but both of these are erroneous. Neither can exist without not only a redistribution of wealth, but a leveling of cultural norms and a medical erasure of genetic differences between people, for all of these give some people advantages over others. The resulting inequality of opportunity will necessarily cause an inequality of outcome. All of these measures require initiating the use of force against people who do not wish to be made equal in these senses. Thus, social justice twists the idea of equality into something which must be imposed by unequal means, as the state and its agents are legally allowed to do that which is disallowed for other people and organizations to do.

Ultimately, social justice is not a form of justice at all because there is no subject by which an injustice can be committed. Proponents of social justice will say that a collective is the victim, but this is impossible because collectives do not exist. To exist is to have a concrete, particular form in physical reality. To say that collectives exist is beg the question of what physical form they take, as all available physical forms are occupied by the individuals which are said to comprise the collective. Thus there is no collective existence apart from the existence of each individual said to comprise the collective. Those who advocate social justice cannot point to an individual victim of social injustice, but they seek to create a multitude of victims of real injustice.

  1. Level playing field”

This phrase is used by regulatory busybodies who see an innovation and decide to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” In any sort of activity, some people will always have an advantage over others, whether it is a first mover advantage, a better idea, better marketing, greater intelligence, etc. The truth is that there can be no such thing as a level playing field, and that which cannot be done should not be attempted.

  1. Our Constitution”

Phrases 9-14 are used to foster a sense of collective identity. The idea that a constitution is “ours” assumes that a collective exists and has ownership of the constitution. As explained earlier, collectives do not exist apart from the existence of each individual said to comprise the collective. Additionally, to own something is to have a right of exclusive control over it. Part and parcel of this right is the right to physically destroy that which one owns. As governments would use force to stop anyone from attempting to destroy the constitution either literally or figuratively, the citizens are not the de facto owners of a constitution.

  1. Our shared values”

Although any recognizable social group will come together to further a certain set of shared values, this phrase is frequently abused by statist propagandists to create a sense of nationalism. In modern nation-states, there tend to be few (if any) shared values across the entire population. To the contrary, it is usually the case that large subcultures within the nation hold values which are diametrically opposed to each other, as well as to the values which are espoused by the ruling classes. To make matters worse, whatever constitution or other founding documents may be in use are frequently cited by all sides in the cultural conflict as a means to justify their own views and attack their opponents.

  1. Our fellow (insert national identity)”

Much like the previous phrase, this is used to lump together people who may or may not fit together by constructing a common identity around them which may or may not have any basis in reality. The implication is that even if people within a nation have disagreements, they are still part of the same collective. This is not necessarily the case because disagreements between subcultures within a nation can grow to a point at which they are no longer able to peacefully share a system of governance. This necessitates a peaceful parting of ways, and the unwillingness of political leaders to allow this to happen results in political violence and civil wars.

  1. That is un-(insert national identity)”

As sociologists are so fond of telling us, an in-group will attempt to clarify its boundaries by othering some people, i.e. defining them as part of the out-group. This is done for purposes of ideological purity as much as for any other reason. Politicians and pundits use this phrase in an attempt to define certain ideas as being out of bounds of the allowable range of opinions. But just as a nation has no existence apart from the individuals comprising the nation, a nation has no ideals apart from the ideals of the individuals comprising the nation. Thus, to tell a person of national identity X that they hold un-X ideas is a contradiction of terms.

  1. National interest”

There is no such thing as a national interest apart from each individual person’s interests because there is no such thing as a nation apart from each individual person. Because a nation will invariably contain individuals whose interests contradict each other, the idea of a national interest is false by contradiction unless everyone in a nation can agree upon a certain set of core interests.

  1. Shared sacrifice”

When government and central bankers interfere with the economy and cause a recession, both typically intervene with fiscal and monetary stimulus programs. As Keynesians, they do not understand that they are only sowing the seeds for another boom and bust cycle. When this happens, politicians and their minions will call for “shared sacrifice.” This phrase really means that they wish to pass off the costs for the mistakes of the ruling classes and the politically-connected wealthy onto the entire population rather than let natural selection eliminate the incompetent from the ranks of politicians, central bankers, and speculators. Of course, the people never get a proper return on their forced investment; rather, it is heads they win, tails you lose.

  1. Rights come from the government”

This phrase is used by progressives who wish to justify their view of the role of government, but it is contradictory. If rights are given by the state, then they can also be taken away by the state. But a right is not something which can be taken away by someone else; it can only be forfeited by the right-holder by violating the equivalent right of another person. This contradiction necessitates a different source for rights, such as argumentation ethics.

With the theoretical argument refuted, let us turn to practical concerns. Progressives claim that government is necessary as a defender of our rights, for the most brutish person or gang may rule and violate our rights otherwise. But a government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area. A government is funded through taxation, which violates private property rights. Its laws are enforced by the threat of arrest, fines, imprisonment, and possibly execution, which violates liberty, property, and possibly life rights. A rights-protecting rights-violator is a contradiction of terms, and the state is just such a brutish person or gang that the progressives say we need safeguards against. Note that although they have a burden to prove that this territorial monopoly is required in order to protect rights, they never do so. At best, they will ask for counterexamples, but this reliance upon historical determinism only shows their lack of courage and imagination to think beyond what has been to see what can be.

  1. We get the government we deserve”

This phrase commonly appears in the media immediately following an election, particularly after a result which entrenches the current system and fails to produce the changes which are invariably promised (which is to say, nearly always). The way that this phrase is used by the media is an example of victim blaming, as the people are going to continue to be violently victimized by agents of the state and the media is saying they deserve to be.

However, one could also interpret this as a call for revolution; in the words of Frederick Douglass, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” There is a case to be made that if people are unwilling to abolish the state by force even though they could, then they deserve to suffer the consequences of their inaction.

  1. Pay your debt to society”

This phrase is used by commentators on criminal justice issues as a euphemism for serving time in prison. The problem with this phrase is that society cannot be a victim because it does not really exist; each individual person exists. A crime must have a definite victim; an individual and/or their property must have been aggressed against. Any debt incurred by a criminal should be payable to that victim, not to all people living within a geographical area.

  1. Rule of law”

This phrase is used by people who try to justify the state by fear-mongering about what could happen without it. But the truth is that rule of law is fundamentally incompatible with a state apparatus. Rule of law is the idea that people should be governed by laws rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. People who have a monopoly on initiatory force necessarily have a monopoly on the enforcement of laws. This means that they can choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power rule the law. The law does not rule them. Therefore, the only possibility for rule of law is to have no state.

  1. Law-abiding citizen”

This phrase is frequently uttered by the common person as a sort of virtue signal that one is a good person. But whether abiding the law makes one a good person is dependent upon the nature of the law. In a statist society, the law is a collection of opinions written down by sociopaths who have managed to either win popularity contests or murder their competitors and enforced at gunpoint by thugs in costumes. When most people commit several felonies every day because the laws criminalize a vast array of activities which do not threaten or victimize anyone and purport to legitimize the victimization of the citizen at the hands of the state, a law abiding citizen is not a goal to which people should aspire.

  1. Common sense regulations”

This phrase is used by people who wish to restrict economic and/or personal freedoms on the grounds of some public good. But their proposed regulations often defy common sense, not that common sense provides an accurate understanding of reality. The purpose of this phrase is to demonize opponents of a proposal as lacking good sense without having to make a logical case for the proposal.

  1. Corporate citizen”

This phrase is used by people who wish to hold businesses accountable to various laws and regulations. It has its roots in the idea of corporate personhood, the idea that a corporation has rights and responsibilities similar to those of a person. This is wrong because a corporation is a legal fiction created by the state to shield business executives from liability. It is not an extant being with moral agency, as a real citizen is. If the object is to hold people fully accountable for their actions, then corporations must be abolished and full liability for one’s crimes must be restored.

  1. Don’t waste your vote”

This phrase is used by supporters of major-party candidates who wish to suppress votes for minor parties. However, the definition of a wasted vote is a vote which does not help elect a candidate. In an indirect election, such as the United States presidential election, only electoral votes matter. Therefore, all popular votes in such a contest are wasted unless there is a law which prevents faithless electors. In elections in which popular votes directly determine the outcome, all votes for losing candidates are wasted, as well as all votes for winning candidates which went above the amount necessary to win. Thus, the percentage of wasted votes in a race may be given as

W = 100% − (Second highest vote percentage)% − 1 vote,

which will be at least 50 percent unless only two candidates receive votes and the winner wins by only one vote.

  1. This is the most important election of our lifetime”

This phrase is used by the establishment media in the hopes of increasing voter turnout. It is a combination of pleading, manipulation, and crying wolf that is completely nonsensical. It assumes that elections matter, requires impossible knowledge, and contradicts physics.

For the ruling class in a democratic state, elections are just tools of social control that provide the populace with meaningless participation in a process in order to convince them that criminal conduct performed under color of law is legitimate because “they voted for it.”

In order for the upcoming election to be the most important of our lifetime, it must be more important than every future election in which current voters will vote. But the future is unknown and unknowable until we arrive at it.

It is known that altering a system at an earlier time gives it more time to develop differently, resulting in greater changes. As such, at least in terms of how different a counter-factual world in which a different candidate took office might be, the most important election of any person’s lifetime should be their first one.

  1. Freedom isn’t free”

This phrase is used by supporters of government militaries and their military-industrial complexes to stir up emotional support for soldiers, defense spending, and the occasional foreign invasion. But the fact that freedom must be defended at a cost does not mean that a government monopoly military is necessary or proper for that task. There is a logical gulf between the two that most people cannot even see because governments have monopolized military defense for millennia, but it is there. To simply jump across it without attempting to explain why a private, voluntarily funded, non-monopolized form of military defense would be insufficient is philosophically invalid.

  1. We need to have an honest conversation”

This phrase is used by politicians and their propagandists when dealing with controversial political issues which tend to go unaddressed for long periods of time due to their third rail nature. But politicians have a tendency to either do nothing about such issues or to uniformly disregard the will of the people. The real purpose of this phrase is to set a trap for both the mainstream opposition and political dissidents. Either can be tricked into believing it acceptable to venture opinions which are outside of the Overton window, for which the establishment can then attack them as unreasonable extremists. In some cases, it is a way for authoritarian regimes to find out who to violently suppress. As such, it is best to rebuke those who make such a claim.

On Market Failure

The idea of market failure is a widely believed misconception which has found widespread use in statist propaganda for the purpose of justifying government intervention in the private sector. Though the term itself has only been in use since 1958, the concept can be traced back to Henry Sidgwick. It is used to describe a situation in which the allocation of goods and services is Pareto inefficient. This occurs when the rational self-interest of individuals is at odds with the optimal outcome for a collective. Such a situation is frequently blamed on conflicts of interest, factor immobility, information asymmetry, monopolies, negative externalities, public goods, and/or time-inconsistent preferences. Among these, monopolies, negative externalities, and public goods receive the most attention from mainstream economists.

But let us pause to consider what a market is. A market is a structure that allows buyers and sellers to exchange goods, services, and information. The participants in the market for a particular commodity consist of everyone who influences the price of that commodity. To say that a market has failed is to say that this process of assembling the information about a commodity which is reflected in its price and its change over time has failed. But the causes listed above are either inconsistent with a free market or unresolvable by interventions which bind the market. Let us explore this in detail.

Monopolies

While monopolies are frequently blamed for market failures, a monopoly in a particular market is typically the result of government intervention which has raised barriers to entry in that market. Through a vicious cycle of regulatory capture, larger businesses can put smaller competitors out of business by bribing politicians and regulators to favor the former and harm the latter. This continues until a market is effectively monopolized. Therefore, this type of monopoly is actually a government failure rather than a market failure.

Another type of monopoly can occur when there are natural barriers to entry, such as the need to build vast amounts of infrastructure in order to provide a good or service. This can give the first entrant into a market an insurmountable advantage. Consumers may then complain that this monopolist is abusing them rather than show gratitude that they are getting a service which was formerly nonexistent. But if the monopolist were really overcharging, then it would become feasible for another provider to either challenge the monopoly directly or provide an alternative service. This type of monopoly is actually a market signal that a particular good or service would be better provided by another means, and entrepreneurs should look for those means.

Third, a monopoly can arise in a free market if one business satisfies all consumers of a good or service to such an extent that no one cares to compete against them. This kind of monopoly is not a market failure, but an astonishing market success.

This leaves only the ‘public goods’ argument, which merits its own section.

Public Goods

Public goods and services are those whose consumption cannot be limited to paying customers. It is frequently argued that this produces waste in the form of unnecessary duplication and excess costs born by those who are not free riders. There is also the matter that non-excludable and rivalrous resources in a commons may be depleted without intervention. The latter can only be fully resolved by eliminating the commons, as restoring exclusive control to the resource is the only method of eliminating the perverse incentives created by a commons. The concerns over free riding and unnecessary duplication ignore incentives, prove too much, and commit the broken window fallacy.

If we wish to have a rational discussion, it is essential to define terms. A problem is an undesirable situation which can be remedied. This is because a situation which is not undesirable presents no problem to solve, and an undesirable situation which has no remedy is just a fact which must be tolerated. The free rider “problem” is a situation of the latter type, as it is impractical to make sure that everyone pays exactly what they should pay for the amount of public goods that they consume. That government monopolies destroy competition, and thus the market price system, makes the free rider “problem” impossible to solve, as the information needed to determine how much each person should pay for the amount of public goods that they consume is destroyed beyond repair.

If taken to its logical conclusion, the idea that no one should be able to consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good means that the state should be eliminated, as the very presence of a state means that some people are consuming more than and paying for less than their fair share of the total wealth in the economy, as states are funded by coercive means which violate private property rights. Those who receive government welfare payments, bailouts, grants, or any other form of government funding are free riding upon the backs of taxpayers and anyone else who uses currency printed by a government’s central bank. The latter group of people are forced riders who are required to pay for public goods from which they receive insufficient benefit. Charity would also be unjustifiable if the concept of the free rider problem is taken to its logical conclusion, as those who receive charity are not paying the full cost for what they are using.

But suppose we ignore this as well. If we accept for the sake of argument that there are public goods and that no one should be able to consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good, then the result will be a massive distortion of the economy, as both the state and private charity must go. While the demise of statism is nothing to lament, the absence of any form of private charity would lead to the very sort of Hobbesian war that statists fear and think that they are preventing. It must also be noted that the money for payments for public goods which are now being made was once being put toward another purpose. Whether that purpose was spending on other goods and services or investment (which is really just another form of spending), the diversion of spending away from these purposes and toward public goods will eliminate some other economic activities that were occurring.

Nearly all competitive production involves supposedly wasteful duplication, in that each provider must have the infrastructure necessary to produce that which is being provided. But if the duplication is truly wasteful, the market signals this by rendering the wasteful duplication unprofitable. Government intervention interferes with such signals, and government control over an industry completely eliminates them, leading to far worse government failures than any failure of the market.

Externalities

A problem related to public goods is the problem of externalities, in which costs or benefits affect a party who did not choose to incur those costs or benefits. When firms do not pay the full cost of production, each unit costs less to produce than it should, resulting in overproduction.

The most frequent examples given are pollution, traffic congestion, and overuse of natural resources, but all of these contain externalities because the market has been prevented by governments from internalizing the costs. Air and water pollution are externalities because government intervention on behalf of polluters has eliminated the common law system of private property rights with regard to pollution. Before the Industrial Revolution, pollution was correctly viewed as an act of aggression against people and their property. Those victimized could sue for damages and obtain injunctions against further pollution. Polluters and victims can also bargain to reach an optimal level of both production and pollution. Additionally, the victims would be justified in using violence in self-defense against polluters, though this is an historical rarity. But government monopolization of environmental regulation has prevented these market solutions from being implemented. Therefore, pollution is a government failure rather than a market failure.

Traffic congestion is another tragedy of the commons that causes externalities in the form of pollution, wasted fuel, and lost time. But this is another case in which governments have monopolized a good and produced it out of accordance with market demand. Without competing private firms to build different traffic systems in search of more efficient ones and without private property rights determining location and control over the transportation system, we are left with a non-excludable good that is incentivized toward overuse. Attempted solutions of congestion pricing, mass transit, and tolls mitigate some effects, but not to the extent that private service providers might implement such methods. Again, we have government failure at work.

A third example of externalities occurs with overuse of natural resources, such as fish and lumber. But once more, we see government intervention against private property mechanisms creating problems. Because state personnel in modern democracies do not personally benefit from maintaining the value of state-controlled property and work almost solely with the usufruct thereof, they are incentivized to engage in bribery and corruption. When states sell only the resource rights but not the territory itself, they get a renewable source of income. But firms that harvest renewable resources can abuse this system, stripping the resource bare then vanishing when it is time to replenish. These ‘fly-by-night’ lumber companies, fishers, and other such exploiters lead to the fast demise of resources which were harvested and preserved for centuries prior to state intervention. In short, government fails yet again.

Before moving on, a quick word about positive externalities is in order. This is another way of talking about the free rider problem, so the same criticisms discussed above apply. But we should also consider the benefits of free riders. Although some people will argue that free riders are responsible for higher costs, they are actually signaling that a good or service is overpriced. While degenerate freeloaders do exist, most free riders who are aware of their free riding are willing to pay for what they are receiving but believe that said goods or services are overpriced. In the state-enforced absence of another provider, they choose to “pirate” the public goods rather than pay the cost which they believe to be too expensive. If there are rational, knowledgeable people in charge of a public good that has many free riders, then they will respond by lowering the cost to convince more people to contribute, which can actually raise the total contribution.

The above result is rare, of course, as rational, knowledgeable people tend to be productive rather than become part of the state apparatus. The more useful role of free riders is to crash government programs which cannot be ended by normal political means. Most government programs help a few people by a large magnitude while harming a much larger number of people by a much smaller amount. This means that an irate and tireless minority will work to keep their sacred cow from being gored, while the majority is not being harmed enough to take action to end the harm. Thus, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program, and it is politically impossible to abolish entitlement and welfare programs. While the strategy of overloading such programs was first proposed by leftists who wished to replace them with far more expansive redistributions of wealth, it could also be used by libertarian-minded people who wish to replace such programs with nothing.

Other Culprits

The less-discussed causes of market failure are conflicts of interest, factor immobility, information asymmetry, and time-inconsistent preferences. This is mostly because government intervention is more widely known to either cause these problems or fail to solve them. Conflicts of interest typically occur when an agent has a self-interest which is at odds with the principal that the agent is supposed to serve. For example, a lawyer may advise his client to enter protracted legal proceedings not because it is best for the client, but because it will generate more income for the lawyer. A politician may vote for a law not because it is in the best interest of the people in her district, but because she was bribed by lobbyists who support the law. The only solution to a conflict of interest is to recuse oneself from the conflict, and government offers no answer, especially since it inherently operates on conflict of interest.

Factor immobility occurs when factors of production, such as land, capital, and labor, cannot easily move between one area of the economy and another. This sometimes occurs due to malinvestment caused by government distortions of the economy; in other cases, it results from technological advancement that puts an industry into obsolescence. In any event, government regulations frequently make it more difficult to change occupations and maneuver capital than it would be in a free market. Interventions to help workers in a declining field typically fall victim to the knowledge problem; it cannot accurately retrain workers or educate future workers because it cannot know what the economy will need by the time the retraining or education is complete.

Information asymmetry occurs when some parties in a transaction has more and/or better information than others. This creates a power disparity which is sometimes called a market failure in the worst cases. Common sub-types of information asymmetry include adverse selection and moral hazard. Adverse selection occurs when one party lacks information while negotiating a contract, while moral hazard involves a lack of information about performance or an inability to obtain appropriate relief for a breach of contract. These cases are made worse by government laws, as laws can lead to both adverse selection and moral hazard. For example, an insurance firm that is legally disallowed from discriminating against high-risk customers is itself put at a higher risk through no fault or will of its own, being unable to turn away those who cost the most to insure or cancel insurance policies for reckless behavior by the insured. Fortunately, there are market methods for resolving informational asymmetries, such as rating agencies.

Time-inconsistent preferences occur when people make decisions which are inconsistent with expected utility. For example, one might choose to have ten ounces of gold today rather than eleven ounces tomorrow. Time preferences are expressed economically through interest rates, in that interest rates are the premium placed upon having something now rather than waiting for it. Governments interfere with interest rates through central bank monetary policies, leading to alterations of time preference that can be inconsistent. This is still another example of government failure rather than market failure.

Resource Failure

Another possibility for market failure which is rarely discussed is that of resource failure. If an economy becomes dependent upon a certain non-renewable resource, that resource becomes scarce, and there is no viable alternative, the result can be devastating not only to markets, but to peoples’ lives as a whole. For example, if peak oil occurs and there is no alternative energy source available to meet the energy demands fulfilled by fossil fuels, a market failure will occur due to resource failure. Another historical example is the destruction of trees on Easter Island. Resource failure is generally not amenable to government policy, and may be exacerbated by it if subsidies alter the market to keep it from finding the best solution to a resource shortage.

Complainer Failure

The last type of failure is not a market failure at all, but a failure by a critic to understand the nature of the market. Consumer demand does not drive the economy; capital investment does. The over-reliance on gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic output has fooled many people into believing otherwise, but GDP neglects intermediate production at the commodity, manufacturing, and wholesale stages of production. As such, consumer demand and spending are an effect of a healthy economy and not the cause.

With this in mind, the idea that the market has somehow failed when it does not produce everything that a particular person might want and deliver it exactly where they want it for a cost that the person finds agreeable is ridiculous. A person levying this criticism should be advised to check their hubris. If a certain good or service is not produced in a free market, it is because such production is not sufficiently worthwhile for anyone to make a living through doing so. The fact that everyone gets by without that good or service indicates that no failure has taken place. Those who desire that good or service so much should make an effort to provide it so that they can have it.

Standards

The entire idea of market failures is based on Pareto efficiency. But there is no reason why we must choose Pareto efficiency as the measure of market success. One could just as well define market efficiency as the degree to which it permits its participants to achieve their individual goals. (Note that these are equivalent if the conditions of the first welfare theorem are met.) Another possible standard is that of productive efficiency, which is optimized when no additional production can occur without increasing the amount of resources, time, and/or labor involved in production. An economy with maximum productive efficiency cannot produce more of one good without producing less of another good.

Conclusion

In every case, that which appears to be a market failure is actually a failure of government policy, natural resource management, or economic understanding. We may therefore reject the very idea of market failure as yet another form of statist propaganda.

Cut Puerto Rico Loose

On May 2, the Puerto Rican government missed an interest payment on bonds it has issued to an extent of $422 million. Worries of default on the territory’s general obligation bonds are continually rising, as it appears that a $2 billion payment due on July 1 will also go unpaid.

Of course, the usual suspects are calling for intervention to “save” the island from its financial woes. Some Democrats are openly clinging to Keynesian ideas of bailouts for troubled financial instruments, despite the abject failure of such measures to repair the mainland U.S. economy since 2008. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan has made the statement that “[o]ur primary responsibility is to protect the American taxpayer and to help bring order to the chaos that will befall Puerto Rico if the status quo continues going in the direction it’s going,” which is contradictory because attempting to rescue Puerto Rico will require victimizing not only the American taxpayer, but everyone who holds U.S. dollars.

That such a bailout would be funded by money gained by the state through extortion and currency debasement is terrible enough, but rescuing Puerto Ricans from the just consequences of their actions also creates a moral hazard. If Puerto Rico, then why not Detroit? Chicago? California, even? If $72 billion in debt plus $44 billion in unfunded liabilities for a outlying territory, then why not more for the U.S. mainland? Rewarding and subsidizing bad behavior only encourages more of it, not only from some irresponsible actors, but from all of them.

It must also be noted that in the current political climate, Republicans will be demonized by Democrats and the lapdog media regardless of what happens, and the Republican rank-and-file will be given the shaft. If there is no bailout, then Democrats will accuse Republicans of being too stingy to help people in need, especially ethnic minorities. If there is a bailout and trouble continues, which it will under such circumstances, then Democrats will blame Republicans for not using enough stimulus and/or for allocating the funds poorly. If one will face accusations regardless of one’s actions, then one might as well get one’s money’s worth and do the right thing. And what is the right thing?

Do not only abstain from bailouts; cut Puerto Rico loose.

Let us face facts; Puerto Rico has never really been a part of America, not in terms of economics, culture, language, or identity. In fact, it was not a part of America at all until 1898, when the United States gained control of it from Spain (along with Guam and the Philippines) under the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War. For four centuries prior since being claimed by Columbus in 1493, Puerto Rico had been a Spanish colony. The people there used the Spanish language, but developed their own sense of culture and national identity. (This commonly occurs upon islands, as the ocean makes for a clear barrier between in-group and out-group.) That they may call themselves U.S. citizens is only a matter of law.

The economic well-being of Puerto Rico is not on par with the rest of the United States. If it were an independent nation, it would rank between 60th and 62nd in GDP, with a similar economic output to Angola, Morocco, and Slovakia, none of which are exactly paragons of economic development. If it were a U.S. state, it would rank 37th out of 51. The difference is far more pronounced when considering other measurements. In terms of public debt to GDP, Puerto Rico has a debt of 66 percent of GDP, while no U.S. state exceeds 25 percent. The per capita public debt of Puerto Rico is $19,486.60, which exceeds that of every U.S. state but is lower than that of the District of Columbia. The per capita income in Puerto Rico is $11,241, placing it just above half of the worst U.S. state (Mississippi, $21,036) and far below the best (D.C., $45,877; Connecticut, $39,373).

While cutting Puerto Rico loose is a matter of rational self-interest for mainland Americans, it is also a way to end their victimization at the hands of central bankers and the investors who react to their pernicious policies. While a free market would have much higher interest rates and no currency debasement, central banks like the Federal Reserve have kept interest rates artificially low and have greatly expanded the monetary supply. Savers who are used to getting a reasonable rate of return in a savings account thus have to seek riskier alternatives. Those who have enough capital to access hedge funds, high-risk sovereign debt becomes an attractive option. Those who are poorer either sit on fiat currency as it loses value or venture into precious metals and cryptocurrencies, which can pose even more risk and volatility. While Puerto Rico would likely form a central bank and issue its own fiat currency if it were cut loose, this would keep the Federal Reserve from imposing an economic system which encourages booms that favor foreign investors at the cost of busts that burden Puerto Ricans. A problem of this sort has already been seen in Greece, and the mistakes made by the European Central Bank should not be repeated.

Real libertarians say: immigration is a government program

On July 8, Libertarian Party Chair Nicholas Sarwark released a statement called “Libertarians say: Let the immigrant children in,” which says that the Central American children currently crossing the Mexican border into the United States should be allowed into the United States. While the statement makes several valid points, let us examine what is wrong with it from a philosophically consistent libertarian perspective.

“Should the U.S. government forbid foreign children from entering the United States? The Libertarian Party says no.

It would be unjust and inhumane for the U.S. government to prohibit these children from entering the United States.”

The U.S. government cannot forbid anything, because it does not exist. Likewise, the Libertarian Party does not say anything, nor can it, because it does not exist. Each individual person exists, and it follows that only an individual person has the ability to say something or forbid something. But putting this strange collectivist utterance aside, the answer to the question of whether agents of the state should use force to deny freedom of movement into a particular geographical area is no. However, this is not to say that because agents of the state should not do it, that it should not be done at all. A case for restricted immigration on the basis of private property rights is consistent with libertarian theory.

“A great irony is that U.S. government policies have caused the conditions that some of these Central American children are fleeing. The War on Drugs has created a huge black market in Latin America, causing increases in gang activity and violent crime. Some of the affected children naturally try to flee this violence. It is wrong to jeer at them, call them ‘illegals,’ and tell them to get out.”

The culpability of those who set U.S. government policy is quite clear, with the predictable repetition of the history of 1920s Chicago. But the solution is to reverse those policies, not to admit people to the United States against the wishes of private property owners therein.

“Many of these children are hoping to reach friends and relatives in the United States. A freer, simpler legal immigration process might result in a safer journey with more adult supervision along the way. In any case, Libertarians support maximizing freedom knowing that risks, including risks to children, are always involved. In some cases, children may be better off migrating, even without adult supervision, than staying trapped in dangerous environments — just ask the Jewish children who escaped from Hitler, or Tutsi children who escaped genocide in Rwanda.”

This is true.

“Libertarians do not support forcing people to pay for other children’s welfare, and there are obviously costs associated with helping children who arrive in the United States. However, there are many charitable organizations that have already mobilized to provide that help. A nation of 320 million people can provide sufficient charitable help to the number of children involved (around 50,000 over the last nine months).”

The problem is that people will be forced to pay for other children’s welfare, to the tune of $1,000 per day per child. Charitable deeds which are funded with stolen money (in the form of taxation and currency debasement) are not virtuous.

There is also the fact that compassion (which is normally a virtue) can be taken too far and turned into a tragic flaw worthy of the finest works of Euripides. To an external enemy wishing to bankrupt Americans, sending helpless children to the border to drain resources and divert the attention of border patrols is an excellent diversionary tactic for inserting terrorists. To the state (the internal enemy), allowing a large number of children to enter is beneficial because unproductive people give politicians an excuse to expand state power to give benefits to them, and there are few types of people who are less productive on average than children. The gang members who are also entering serve the interests of politicians as well, as they provide justification for expanding the police state.

“And if we’d just end the War on Drugs, the number of refugee children would be much lower.”

This is necessary, but not sufficient. Military interventionism, protectionist trade policies, economic sanctions, and foreign aid also create more refugee children in the countries targeted by them.

“Ultimately, the fact that many of these children are fleeing dangerous situations isn’t the issue. Even if they were coming to the United States for fun, we should still allow them to enter. All foreigners should be allowed entry into the United States unless the government can produce positive evidence that they pose a threat to security, health, or property.”

This statement is quite anti-libertarian, as it implies that the state should have authority over who gets to enter which geographical areas and what constitutes a threat to security, health, or property rather than private property owners. Only individuals are legitimately capable of owning land, as only individuals are capable of mixing labor with unowned natural resources, which is the correct way to create property based upon self-ownership and the resulting responsibility for one’s actions. Therefore, individuals should have the right to admit to or exclude from their private property any person for any reason.

“Our bad immigration laws affect a lot more people than just these children. Many foreigners want to come work in the United States, which benefits them as well as Americans. However, our government makes it impossible for almost all of them to work here legally.”

This is not necessarily true. It should be clear to a student of Austrian School economics that benefit is subjective. A person may value a lower population density more than the rise in real incomes that results from immigration, in which case foreign workers are not a welcome sight.

“The Libertarian Party believes that the U.S. government should not prohibit Americans from hiring foreign workers. There are about 60 million legal foreign entries into the United States each year (mostly tourists). Those foreigners should be free to work in the United States as well. There’s no question of border security — it’s just a question of the government’s unjust and foolish protectionist labor laws.

(By comparison, there are only about 500,000 “illegal” entries into the United States each year. Most of those are foreigners who want to work in the United States, and who would be denied visas because of that intention.)”

Again, the Libertarian Party cannot believe anything; only an individual person can do that. That being said, the belief is true as long as private property owners who control the area in which foreigners will be working have no problems with it. There is also the matter of child labor laws and compulsory schooling laws, which would prevent the children currently crossing the border from being free to work even if foreign worker restrictions were lifted.

“Some observers have noted that generous benefit and subsidy programs in the United States, including free education and health care, may be attracting lazy foreigners. …It’s worth pointing out that foreigners use these programs at a lower rate than natives, according to a recent report by the Cato Institute.”

This is true.

“The Libertarian Party supports the abolition of government benefits and subsidies, for both natives and foreigners.”

This is good, but the moral order in which to do this is to end the government benefits and subsidies, then open the borders because this subjects people living in America to less taxation and currency debasement.

“It’s a shame that many in the media are trying to make Americans feel fear and suspicion toward immigrants. It’s particularly disgusting that protesters would yell at children to make their political point.”

This is true.

“Immigration is good for foreigners and good for Americans, and we need to change our laws to make immigration much easier.

The Libertarian Party Platform says the following about the freedom of trade and migration:

3.4 Free Trade and Migration

We support the removal of governmental impediments to free trade. Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders. However, we support control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a credible threat to security, health or property.”

These points have been addressed above.

To summarize, real libertarians say: immigration is a government program. The correct solution to the current border crisis is to respect private property rights, eliminate the various government programs which have made so many refugees, otherwise let people move where they wish and either associate with or dissociate from whom they wish, and do all of this without involving the state.

Book Review: Freedom!

Freedom! is a book about libertarian theory written by activist Adam Kokesh. The book discusses the philosophy of libertarianism, applies it to various socioeconomic issues, and discusses its potential.

Mr. Kokesh begins by discussing the nature of freedom from a self-ownership perspective, and shows how government is philosophically incompatible with this perspective. He then shows how the non-aggression principle and the right to claim property derives from self-ownership. The validity of the self-ownership perspective has been argued with more robustness elsewhere, but we can assume that Kokesh omits a deeper discussion of argumentation ethics for the sake of brevity. Strangely, Kokesh does not include the precise definition of government that he has used repeatedly elsewhere (a group of individuals who exercise a monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographical area). He finishes the first chapter by proposing a society in which people only engage in voluntary relationships.

The second chapter is about the history of the state and how we might evolve past it, with an emphasis on the role of technology in helping people see through the lies of government propaganda and become productive enough to oppose the state in meaningful ways. The overall tone is rather Pollyanna-ish, as governments have become far more dangerous with recent advances in technology, and technology alone is not guaranteed to lead to the end of the state. There is also an alternative interpretation of the available data which is not directly discussed; namely, that the evolution from more crude forms of government to democracy did not occur because common people wanted more influence in government, but because rulers found that human livestock are more productive when given the illusion of freedom.

The third and fourth chapters briefly discuss the nature of self-defense and justice in a free society, with much more space devoted to the ways in which governments have corrupted these concepts with their monopolies on legal systems and military defense. Such corruptions include military interventionism, foreign aid, conscription, the military-industrial complex, wars against abstract ideas and tactics rather than physical foes who may be defeated, laws that criminalize victimless behaviors, laws that restrict access to weapons, courts that give agents of the state cover to assault peaceful people, the prison-industrial complex, and a legal system of punishment rather than a justice system of restitution.

The fifth chapter discusses taxation and explains why it is immoral, in both direct forms and indirect forms such as central banking. Kokesh shows that attempting to use the state to rein in the excesses of the rich will fail because the rich control the state by funding politicians. He then demonstrates that taxes discourage production because removing incentive to work in the form of income taxation will lead to less work being done (at least officially). After explaining how fiat currencies are imposed and how they are used to make it easier to tax a population, he argues that eminent domain and property taxes violate private property rights and are yet another form of theft. Kokesh finishes the chapter with a glimmer of hope; that a generation of people will come who will disown national debts because such debts legitimately have nothing to do with them. There are two problematic arguments in this chapter. First, there is the idea that taxation can be voluntary if one believes that governments serve people, one’s tax money is used properly, and one willingly pays taxes. This is false on two counts. Truth is independent of belief and morality is objective, so taxation is immoral even if one does not believe that it is. Also, consent under duress is not valid consent. As it is impossible to distinguish consent given only because of duress from consent given despite duress, it is impossible to consent when duress is present. Second, Kokesh claims that the only options for fighting taxation are to fight tax collectors in court and to conduct economic activities out of the view of tax collectors. This is false because the use of defensive force against agents of the state is also an option, even if there are not yet enough potential practitioners to make it likely to succeed.

In the sixth chapter, Kokesh begins by explaining the ideal of trade without force, fraud, or coercion, then examines how destructive government interference in trade is to the economy. He then goes into more detail about how central banks and fiat currencies distort the economy, and suggests cryptocurrencies as a possible way to solve this problem. Next, there is the problem of corporations, which led to the formation of unions. Kokesh explains that corporations are legal fictions created by the state to protect the wealthy who bribe politicians, and that this led to strong unions as a reaction by workers to the formation of powerful corporate interests. After this, he discusses the effect of government monopolization on infrastructure and utilities, which has hampered advancement beyond current technology and raised the cost of all goods and services by eliminating the increased efficiency that results from competition among service providers. The fifth section of the chapter is devoted to the method of ostracism and boycotting to bring about change in a peaceful manner. Unfortunately, the shortfalls of ostracism are not fully explored. Kokesh ends the sixth chapter by making the case that everything should be viewed through the lens of economics.

In the seventh chapter, Kokesh demonstrates how government interference in schooling, medicine, assistance for the poor, drug use, environmental protection, and the free flow of ideas has harmed everyone. Free market solutions to these problems are discussed perhaps too briefly, but discussing them at full length would make the book several times longer, and this has been done elsewhere by other authors.

The eighth chapter discusses government involvement in personal and family relationships. Here, Kokesh makes the case against laws forbidding consensual relationships as well as the case for peaceful parenting and treating children more like people and less like property vis-à-vis their current standing in society. This perspective is then applied to the problem of bullying in government schools. The chapter ends with a discussion of racism that examines its nature, its uses from a libertarian perspective, and how it is used by power elites to divide and conquer.

The last two chapters present Kokesh’s advice for living free in an unfree world, as well as his prediction for where the human species is going. His advice includes learning to master one’s emotions, becoming knowledgeable about taking care of one’s body and using that knowledge, living as debt-free as possible, doing work that one can be proud of, and choosing to have a positive state of mind. The last chapter returns to the theme of the second chapter; namely, that of technological advancement reaching an asymptote beyond which the state cannot function. Fortunately, the Pollyanna-ish tone does not return here, as Kokesh warns about the destructive potential of states with technology at a nearly asymptotic level. The next three sections discuss the methods by which people may transition to a voluntary society, which include education, civil disobedience, conducting business out of view of the state, and abolishing states gradually from the top level down rather than all at once. The use of force to topple governments is perhaps unfairly downplayed, however. Kokesh ends the book by explaining that the transition to a free society is not a revolution in the historical sense, but an evolution to something entirely new.

Overall, the book could explain some concepts in more detail and could avoid a few specious arguments, but it is what it was meant to be: a strong but concise treatise on the philosophy and potential of libertarianism.

Rating: 4/5