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.

Book Review: The Age of Jihad

The Age of Jihad is a book about political unrest in the Middle East by Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn. The book is a compilation of his notes and articles over a 20-year period (1996-2016) while traveling throughout the Middle East. Cockburn did direct reporting where possible, and relied upon first-hand accounts when venturing into certain places was too dangerous.

Cockburn begins with his reporting from Afghanistan in late 2001 as the United States began its intervention to remove the Taliban from power. Next, he shares his experiences of Iraq under sanctions from 1996, 1998, and 2001, followed by his experiences there during the American occupation from 2003 to 2010. This is followed by his next forays into Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012.

The next part of the book focuses on the Arab Spring and the events that followed, with particular emphasis on countries in which the rulers were not quickly deposed. Cockburn begins with the Libyan Civil War of 2011 that removed Muammar Gaddafi from power, along with the difficulties that followed. Sectarian violence in Yemen from 2009 to 2015 and the failed uprising in Bahrain in 2011 each get a chapter.

The last part of the book covers recent developments in Syria and Iraq. First, the Arab Spring in Syria and its development into the Syrian Civil War from 2011 to 2014 is discussed in two chapters. Another two chapters are devoted to the contemporaneous destabilization of Iraq. This culminates in the rise of ISIS and the establishment of the Caliphate, in and near which the final four chapters take place.

The book gives important insight into just how terrible daily life is for people in war-torn lands, including the near-absence of basic utilities, shortages of essential items, rampant unemployment, and fear of mistreatment both from rebel groups and one’s own government. The book is filled with anecdotes of behavior which have not been seen since the Renaissance in the West, and knowledge of this behavior helps to explain animosity toward migrants from that region. The reader may be familiar with some of the events described, but almost anyone would find new information somewhere in the book.

One comes away from the book with a sense that both Western and regional powers had to be trying to perform so poorly. Western powers sought to punish Saddam Hussein without regard for the Iraqi people who bore the brunt of sanctions. They ignored cultural attitudes and sectarian divisions while turning a blind eye to mass corruption that greatly weakened the nation-building projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. They removed dictators who were stabilizing forces, thus creating power vacuums which were filled by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. It is difficult to be so maliciously incompetent without intending to do so.

Overall, Cockburn does an excellent job of conveying the reality on the ground in most of the conflicts in the War on Terrorism and the Arab Spring. The only real improvement would be to add sections on recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, which only get passing mentions as sources for jihadists in other places. The Age of Jihad belongs on the bookshelf of any serious student of recent history, the Middle East, revolutions, war, and/or the effects of foreign intervention.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review: The Invention of Russia

The Invention of Russia is a book about the history of the Soviet Union and the formation of modern Russia by Russian journalist Arkady Ostrovsky. The book focuses on the time period of the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. Special attention is paid to the role played by the media in shaping narratives and steering the population from the Soviet era to the present.

The prologue deals with the author’s experience during and immediately after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, 2015. He briefly overviews events over the past few decades that factored into Nemtsov’s murder, and the author’s experiences through those years are also discussed.

The book proper is divided into two parts, each with five chapters. The division between the parts is roughly set at the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis. The first chapter begins with the end of the Soviet Union, then backtracks to give the reader a sense of Soviet history up to Gorbachev’s rise to power, with emphasis on the events that foreshadowed it, such as de-Stalinization and the crushing of the Prague Spring. The second chapter covers the time from Gorbachev’s appointment to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The nature of perestroika and glasnost are discussed, as well as how the Chernobyl incident affected both. Later in the chapter, Ostrovsky details the split between the liberal reformers and the Stalinist hardliners, as well as the beginnings of the privatization of state assets which formed the class of Russian oligarchs. The third chapter explores the final two years of the Soviet Union, including the economic difficulties, the rise of Yeltsin, the worries of the KGB and other elements of the Soviet power structure, the January Events in Lithuania, and the 1991 Soviet coup attempt. The fourth chapter looks at the role played by the media in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and how the generational shift from the shestidesiatniki to their children affected the changes. The Kommersant newspaper is highlighted as an example of the new Russian media, as well as one of several examples of less than honest business practices in the early 1990s, which occurred due to the moral vacuum left by communism. The fifth chapter covers the time from the end of the Soviet Union up to the 1993 crisis, with particular attention to the role of television, radio, and print media in shaping the narrative and saving Russia from another Communist takeover.

The sixth chapter continues the discussion of the 1993 crisis, then moves on to the creation of NTV, Russia’s first Western-style television station. Of course, NTV had to compete with Channel One and other state media, which caused tensions with the state when NTV covered the first Chechnya war from the Chechen point of view. The chapter concludes with the 1996 election, in which the media played an essential role in bringing Yeltsin up from single-digit polling to a victory over Gennady Zyuganov, his Communist challenger. The seventh chapter continues with the events after the election, including a battle between oligarchs that turned into a political crisis, continued troubles with Chechnya, the search for a vision for Russia moving forward, and finally, the 1998 Russian financial crisis.The eighth chapter shows how this milieu combined with NATO airstrikes in Serbia and an overly propagandistic media was able to elevate an obscure KGB agent named Vladimir Putin to the presidency of Russia. The decision of most of NTV’s leadership to side against this was the beginning of the end for the station. The ninth chapter covers the time from the beginning of Putin’s rule to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, including the ouster of several high-profile opponents of the regime, the bringing of NTV into the control of Gazprom and its gradual turn toward the regime, further trouble with Chechen terrorists, the Russo-Georgian War, and the activities of various media personalities. The tenth chapter looks at Putin’s rule in light of Russian popular culture, the rise of the bureaucrat-entrepreneur, the protests of 2011-13, the military operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and the use of propaganda to manufacture support for foreign aggression.

The book is excellent at face value, providing a perspective that can only come from a native person who lived through many of the events described in the book. But it is even more valuable to libertarians and reactionaries for the obvious parallels between Russian history and the current state of affairs in the West, as well as for the warnings concerning the improper dismantling of government monopolies, as happened during the transition from the Soviet Union to modern Russia.

To conclude, the unique explanations of historical events and the focus on the role of the media in steering the ship of state make this book an invaluable addition to the collection of any activist, analyst, historian, strategist, or student.

Rating: 5/5

The Economic Fallacies of Black Friday: 2016 Edition

Today, shoppers across America will participate in the largest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. The National Retail Federation is estimating that 137.4 million customers will be shopping on Black Friday weekend, down from the 2015 estimate of 135.8 million customers. The actual result from 2015 was 151.4 million shoppers. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2016 would mean an actual number of shoppers close to 153.1 million.

The NRF estimates that total sales for the holiday season will be $655.8 billion, up from $633.0 billion in 2015. This would be an annual increase of 3.6 percent. The estimate for 2015 was $630.5 billion, suggesting that the total sales for 2016 may be around $658.4 billion. This year, the NRF estimates that retailers will hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal employees, compared with the actual 675,300 they hired during the 2015 holiday season versus an estimate of 700,000 to 750,000. We may therefore expect that retailers will actually hire about 619,400 seasonal employees. On the surface, this may appear to be a marvelous celebration of free market capitalism. But let us look deeper through the lenses of the broken window fallacy and the idea of malinvestment.

To view holiday shopping as a boost to the economy ignores the fact that people could either be spending that money in other ways or saving it. In other words, such an approach is an example of the broken window fallacy because it focuses only on what is seen and ignores opportunity costs. If people would save their money rather than spending it on various holiday gifts, then this money would be invested in one thing or another. As Henry Hazlitt explains in Chapter 23 of Economics in One Lesson, saving is really just another form of spending, and one that has a greater tendency to allocate resources where they are most needed.

Per capita spending is predicted to be $935.58 in 2016, up from the 2015 estimate of $805.65. The actual result from 2015 was $952.58. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2016 would mean an actual per capita spending close to $1,106.21. The above problems get even worse if people use credit cards to spend money that they do not currently have. With a current credit card interest rate of 16.28 percent and a minimum payment of 4.0 percent, a debt of $1,106.21 would take almost six years to pay off and would cost $1,567.57. This is $461.36 wasted on interest payments that could have been kept in one’s accounts or put toward a productive purpose. Multiply this by the 153.1 million shoppers predicted earlier, and the result is that as much as $70.6 billion could be spent on interest payments.

When people purchase unwanted gifts and/or buy gifts with money they do not currently have, their choices encourage malinvestments. A malinvestment is an investment in a line of production that is mistaken in terms of the real demands of the economy, which leads to wasted capital and economic losses. The holiday shopping season contains a subset of shopping which creates systematic and widespread mistakes in investment and production. Although the effect is not as severe as what occurs during an Austrian business cycle bust and is both caused and resolved in fundamentally different ways, there is a noticeable hangover effect on the economy. A look at the average monthly returns on the Standard and Poor’s 500 shows that while the worst month for investments is September, the next three worst months for investing are February, May, and March. (April would likely be bad as well if not for income tax returns providing an artificial economic boost.) An economic downturn occurs in the historical average following the holiday season, but as this has become an expected annual occurrence, many analysts simply do not look for an explanation of these results, as they are perceived to be natural. Even so, this appears to be a small-scale business cycle that repeats annually.

With these arguments in mind, would we all be better off if we just canceled the holiday shopping season? It is an open question, but the Austrian School of economics suggests that we could have a better economy if the burst of economic activity in late November and December were spread throughout the year and people did not spend money they do not have on items they do not need.

The Strategic Libertarian Case For Supporting Hillary Clinton

The 2016 election season has been a contentious and divisive time for libertarians. Some have decided to side with Republican candidate Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils. Others are supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson despite his long odds and shortcomings as a candidate. A few are turning to Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle, despite his lack of sufficient ballot access to obtain victory. Some who do not understand or care about economic liberty have even suggested Green Party candidate Jill Stein as an option for libertarians. A significant number are disgusted with all of their options and plan to stay home on Election Day. What no one seems to have contemplated is the case for a libertarian to support Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, so let us explore that case.

Clearly, there is no straightforward, face-value libertarian case for supporting someone with the track record of warmongering, corruption, thievery, and deception that Clinton has in their quest to preside over the most powerful and dangerous state apparatus in human history. But almost all libertarians have decided to stop there in their consideration of Clinton and look to the other candidates. What can be argued that has not been argued thus far is a bootlegger’s case for Clinton, in which she is supported not for the ostensible purposes of granting her the Presidency, but because her administration will cause effects that libertarians can exploit for their purposes. The overarching theme is that the leftward drive of statism in general and democracy in particular cannot be forestalled by the means at hand, so the alternative is to push leftism even faster and farther than leftists had planned in order to hasten its collapse. It is this sort of case which will be made here.

The Goal of Libertarians

It may seem odd at first glance to speak of a unifying goal for all libertarians, as libertarians have all sorts of goals, some of which are at cross purposes with each other. However, the root of the word ‘libertarian’ is ‘liberty’, so it is reasonable to conclude that a libertarian has the practical goal of maximizing the amount of liberty present in one’s environment. Liberty is generally defined as the freedom to do as one wishes as long as one respects the right of other people to do likewise and commits no aggression against them. But liberty is meaningless without private property in which to enjoy it, insecure without rule of law to defend it, precarious without peace and justice to preserve it, and absent without freedom of association. If a state is present, it will fund its activities through taxation and civil asset forfeiture, take private property through eminent domain, and restrict the use of property through intellectual monopoly, zoning, and environmental regulations. Its officials and agents will choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof, meaning that they rule the law and not vice versa. Its enforcers will initiate the use of violence against people who are known to disagree with government statutes and acts upon their disagreements, thus presenting a constant threat to peace. Its agents are allowed to do that which is considered criminal for anyone else to do, and the system is set up to keep them from being held to account. It will force people to associate with it regardless of whether they want to use or pay for its services. For these reasons (and many others), the maximization of liberty requires abolition of the state.

Abolition Requires Revolution

Unfortunately, the state will not abolish itself; the control and maintenance of the state apparatus is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it. Those who bankroll political campaigns receive a far better return on investment than they would receive from any free market use of capital, and if they did not make such donations, their business rivals would. Wielding political power causes the same biochemical responses as drug abuse. There are people who carry weapons in the name of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of politicians because they lack the skills and temperament to be productive members of society. There is a dependent class of people who have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society. All of these people are used to their way of life, and they will not give it up without a fight. Any strategy that does not deal with this fact, as well as the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will resort to force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure. There are many other methods that libertarians have proposed and tried to increase the amount of liberty in society, and some have achieved some limited success. But electoral methods, agorism, cryptography, seasteading, civil disobedience, education, and peaceful parenting all fail to address the fundamental problem. Thus, they will fail to defeat the state by themselves at best. At worst, they will ease some of the pain of oppression, which allows people to tolerate more evil before they must take action to end it. Their usefulness, if any, is to push the state toward collapse while growing the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible.

A Successful Revolution

A revolution to end the state can only be successful if enough people participate. Moving too soon plays into the state’s hands, as it will only give the state more cause to grow and sour the reputation of libertarianism. The personnel and resources necessary to carry out a revolution are not yet assembled, so the task of the libertarian is to figure out how to assemble them. Let us begin by noting what the Declaration of Independence says about the matter:

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

This is indeed what history shows us; people tend to overthrow governments only if they believe themselves to lack better options. Regardless of whether war, famine, or pestilence visits a population because of their government or in spite of it, a failure of a state to meet the needs of its people in a crisis has precipitated more revolutions than anything else. Although the tyrannies inflicted upon the American people by the federal government are far greater than those which inspired our forefathers to take up arms, the comforts of modernity and the civic religion of democratic statism have made evils more easily sufferable. That which would once have led people to revolt is now merely a minor inconvenience, to be brushed aside and endured because the next sports game is on. Clearly, conditions must get worse in order to make enough people believe that they must rise up against the system rather than keep trying to play the fool’s game of working within it.

Use It to Destroy It

Given that liberty requires anarchy, anarchy requires abolition of the state, abolition of the state requires revolution, revolution requires a sufficient number of participants, the number of potential participants is lacking, people revolt when they believe themselves to be out of other options, and more people will believe themselves to be out of other options if conditions get worse, the next order of business is to see what can be done to make conditions get worse. In a democratic state, the ballot box is the primary means by which decisions are made. Conditions sometimes change slowly in a nation with a deep state of unelected bureaucrats that is largely impervious to the winds of politics, but conditions do deteriorate when bad rulers are elected. While this is always the case, some candidates for office are clearly worse than others. The obvious strategy, then, is to intentionally vote for the worst candidates in an effort to push the current system toward ruin.

Who Is Worst?

With a strategy discovered, the next question concerns application. Which candidate in the 2016 presidential election would do the most to push the current system toward ruin? In other words, who has no intention or motive to make any significant changes to current policy? Who would amplify and accelerate the current course of the federal government?

We may begin by considering only the candidates who have a chance of winning, as a candidate who cannot get into office in the first place will fail a fortiori at making conditions worse while in office. This reduces our options to Clinton, Johnson, Stein, and Trump. All of the other minor-party candidates lack the ballot access to gain the Presidency, even if everyone voted for a particular one of them. Stein may also be dismissed, as polling has shown her to be in fourth place in nearly every national and state poll that has been conducted. (Though if Stein had a chance, this would be a case for supporting her instead of Clinton, as the implementation of her platform would accelerate the national debt, grow the size and scope of government, and push the nation toward economic ruin faster than the platforms of the other candidates.)

Johnson and Trump offer respites from many of the failed policies of recent administrations, though to varying degrees and for different reasons. While both focus on economic matters, Johnson takes a more libertarian approach while Trump is more nationalist. The practical upshot is that a Johnson presidency would be likely to offer much more relief over the short-term but ignore important demographic concerns, while a Trump presidency would offer much less immediate relief but address concerns over demographic shifts which are hostile to liberty. But the strategy being discussed is to vote for the worst, not the best.

A look at Clinton’s platform reveals that she favors higher taxes, more programs for minorities, more taxpayer funding for college tuition, strengthening of entitlement programs, stricter gun control measures, universal healthcare, ending the sequester for both defense and non-defense spending, amnesty for illegal immigrants, more funding for clean energy, a continuation of unproductive anti-terrorism policies, curtailment of civil liberties, and more government intervention in the workplace. She is also far more likely to start new wars than the other candidates, and this would speed along the decline more than any other policy. In other words, she will amplify and accelerate the current course of the federal government much more than Johnson and somewhat more than Trump.

Resolution in Defeat

It is also necessary to consider the impact that the election is likely to have on the supporters of the losing candidates. If Johnson loses, his supporters will likely get the result that they expect, as third-party candidates have almost no chance in a system rigged to produce a two-party system. Although a Johnson victory is technically possible if everything plays out just right, the more realistic question is whether he can get 5 percent of the vote, which would make the Libertarian Party a more significant election machine going forward. As such, voting for Johnson is more of a punt on 2016 with hopes set on 2020. That said, a disastrous result for Johnson will affirm the need for the LP to stop running the milquetoast candidates they have fielded since 2008 and put forward openly radical, even anarchist, voices.

A Clinton loss will have the effect of opening a pressure valve on populist and nationalist resentment, just as the Brexit victory did in the United Kingdom. If liberty is the goal, then a pressure valve to release steam that is needed for a revolutionary explosion is counterproductive. For as long as Trump remains in office, the right would rally behind him, turn a blind eye to many of his negative tendencies, and forget their anti-state sentiments because their man is in charge. While Trump could cause some disillusionment when many of his lofty campaign promises do not come true, many on the right have some understanding that this will be the case and that he must speak bombastically to keep his base energized and motivated. Trump could also do some good in the form of neutralizing the tactics of social justice warriors, but he has already done this and could likely not do much more in this regard. Of course, the political pendulum will swing again, for Trump is not Pinochet and never will be. Trump has given no indication that he would do anything meaningful to abolish democracy or eliminate the programs which create left-wing moral degeneracy. The left would return to its excesses as soon as it regains the Presidency, using state power to press its thumb on the scale even harder to try to ensure that nothing of the sort can happen again.

With the exception of cuckservative neocons who would count Clinton as one of their own, a Trump loss would further inflame the right and grow the reactionary movement. The right would increasingly come to realize that the democratic process as it currently operates is no longer in their interests, just as many Southerners did after the election of 1860. Due to demographic shifts, a Trumpian candidate will likely never have an easier path than in 2016, and the path is quite difficult now. While a Clinton victory is unlikely to result in a revolt before the 2020 election, it could produce other interesting results, such as renewed interest in the idea of nullification, an Article V convention, or even a serious effort by a state to secede.

Objections

Naturally, a plan to deliberately worsen conditions in one’s own nation will invite sharp criticism. Let us consider some of the most likely objections to such a plan. First, there is the objection that this will harm innocent people. This is not necessarily the case, depending upon how one defines innocence. To return to the Declaration of Independence,

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

In this sense, the American people are in dereliction of their duty to throw off oppressors. While those who say that we get the government we deserve are victim blaming to some extent, they have a point in the sense that revolution is far more practical than most people think, yet the American people have not revolted against the state in a meaningful way since 1794. (The Civil War was a meaningful revolt, but it was not anti-state in nature; the Confederates sought to replace one government with another.) But even if we grant that this will harm innocents, it is not as though innocents will go unharmed otherwise. The state violently victimizes the innocent by its very nature, and other plans for ending the state will not prevent such victimization before the state is abolished. It is thus a question of degree and duration, much like that of ripping off a bandage rather than pulling at it slowly.

Second, there is the possibility that this plan will backfire. We may make conditions worse, but perhaps a sufficient number of people will never decide that they have had enough. This may occur because they blame those who voted us into a crisis and do not wish to fight alongside them, or because they simply lack the fortitude to revolt. This is a legitimate concern, but the possibility that people no longer have the fortitude to forcefully resist the state will be a concern regardless of the method used by libertarians.

Third, Clinton may also make leftists look for more radical methods, as she is likely to further upset the people who supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. This is actually a feature in a plan to overload and collapse the system, as it pushes the establishment toward ruin even faster. And if the far-left and the far-right come to blows in America, the rightists have a clear advantage in manpower, firepower, and the concern to target one’s enemies without harming bystanders (although neither side is perfect in the latter regard).

Fourth, there is no guarantee that Clinton will be worse than Trump. But there is no guarantee of anything promised by politicians to voters; this is the very design of democratic statism, and one of its intractable problems. Both major-party candidates are known to be serial liars, but based on their track records both inside and outside of politics, it is reasonable to conclude that they will at least attempt to advance the agendas in their platforms.

Conclusion

If one understands that the problems with which the democratic state presents us are intractable in its presence, and that the best use of the ballot box is to vote for the worst candidate in order to hasten the demise of this broken system, then supporting Hillary Clinton for liberty makes a great deal of sense. The common objections to such a plan do not withstand scrutiny, as other methods of action or inaction have the same or worse potential shortcomings. The effects of her defeat would only slow the decline rather than reverse it, and the effects of her victory would galvanize the anti-state movement like no other result that can be achieved in 2016.

This Is (Probably) Not The Most Important Election Of Our Lifetime

In this election cycle, just like the others before it, the establishment media is telling us that this is the most important election of our lifetime. They repeat it over and over again, as if to convince themselves. But is this really the case? Let us thoroughly examine this idea.

First, it assumes that elections have importance. This is an idea that most Americans take for granted, as it is part of the civic religion that people are indoctrinated into from an early age. But this does not make it true. In fact, this should make it highly suspect, as the truth requires not indoctrination; only discovery. 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.” The widely perceived differences between the two parties are just an illusion, and the heart of government policy remains the same, regardless of what the people want. Regardless of who wins in November (barring a miraculous victory by a third-party candidate), there will be more fighting against terrorists but no serious push to defeat them, military spending will stay at absurd levels, the Federal Reserve will not be abolished or even significantly reined in, a large illegal immigrant population will remain, regulatory agencies will continue to inflict great harm on small businesses, civil liberties will be further imperiled, the welfare state will be preserved, and Congressional gridlock will likely continue. With this in mind, elections do not have importance in the sense that the establishment media is describing. If elections do not have importance, then one cannot be more important than another. The idea that the upcoming election is the most important of our lifetime fails a fortiori.

Second, it requires impossible knowledge. 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. As such, the claim that the upcoming election is the most important of our lifetime cannot be proven until all current voters have died and all of the elections they will live through can be evaluated for their impact.

Third, it contradicts physics. Let us assume that it is always true that the current election cycle is the most important of our lifetime. It follows that each successive election is more important than the one before it. As the entire population is not replaced between election cycles, there are people who vote in successive elections (in fact, most voters do). Thus, we can carry this idea back through history as far as the first advent of elections in the place being considered. The conclusion of this line of reasoning is that changing an election result farther back in history would cause less change to the present day than changing a more recent election result. But 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.

Each of these logical and philosophical problems is enough to render the phrase inert. But given all of these fallacies, no rational person should be calling this election, or any other, the most important election of our lifetime. So then, why do politicos do it? The answer is that it is a way to psychologically manipulate the masses. Immediacy is an important feature in human psychology because nothing is more important in terms of what can be acted upon than the present; the past has already happened and cannot be changed by available means, and the future has not yet arrived and therefore cannot yet be acted upon. But it is not only the case that the present is unique; it also feels unique. Only in retrospect can one see that an election is really not so different from previous elections, with the amount of time necessary for this being dependent upon how many minor differences there were between the candidates.

It would be reasonable to conclude that the phrase “this is the most important election of our lifetime” is a combination of pleading, manipulation, and crying wolf. This, of course, leaves us with three important questions. When will the American people ignore the pleas of the politicos? Is a wolf really out there? And if so, who or what will be his meal?

Make America Miss Again: The 2016 Republican National Convention

On July 18-21, the Republican Party held its national presidential nominating convention in Cleveland. Over a thousand delegates from all 50 states attended the convention, along with dozens of guest speakers. Each day had a different theme, based on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” These were “Make America Safe Again,” “Make America Work Again,” “Make America First Again,” and “Make America One Again.” Let us examine each of these themes, how they were presented, and what is wrong with the approach of Trump and the Republicans.

Safe Again

The theme of the first night was “Make America Safe Again.” According to the GOP convention site,

“From attacks on our own soil and overseas to the tragedy in Benghazi, the policies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have left us vulnerable. Our immigration system is broken, leaving our country open to security threats and the negative consequences of illegal immigration. A Donald Trump administration will listen to and learn from our nation’s heroes who have put themselves in harm’s way and pursue a national security strategy and foreign policy that will strengthen our military and make America safe again.”

But it is the United States government that does the most to make Americans unsafe, and the Trump agenda does little to address this problem. To the extent that crime has decreased since its peak in 1991, it correlates more strongly with increased firearm ownership among the citizenry than with anything the government has done.

Under a Trump regime, there will still be a multitude of laws which criminalize behaviors that do not aggress against any person or property. The police who enforce those laws will continue to make Americans unsafe. Currently, Americans are 58 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist, and this statistic is unlikely to improve unless more terrorism occurs during a Trump administration.

Unfortunately, that could be the case. Trump’s plan for dealing with ISIS (whatever it might be) is likely to motivate many more people to join terrorist organizations and kill Americans. When civilians are killed in drone bombings, as over 55 were in the week leading up to the convention, their surviving family members will want revenge. However horrible ISIS is, they will view it as the lesser evil if Americans killed their family members and ISIS did not. They will probably never find the drone pilots to kill them, as would be just, so they will try to kill American civilians, and some of them will succeed.

Trump’s military policy is to “build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now. It’s gonna be so strong, nobody’s gonna mess with us.” But the American military budget is five times larger than that of its next competitor (China) and as much as the next 11 countries combined. This drives up the national debt, which many experts consider to be the most serious long-term threat to national security.

Of course, the lineup of speakers failed to recognize any of this, instead focusing on the standard Republican fare of Hillary Clinton’s failure in Benghazi, the need for border security, and the hostile climate toward police. This may lead Trump to victory, but those who fail to understand the roots of problems have no hope of solving them. Then again, solving them may not be the point.

Work Again

The theme of the second night was “Make America Work Again.” According to the GOP convention site,

“The Obama years have delivered anemic economic growth, the lowest labor-force participation rate in 38 years, and job-killing regulations and legislation like Obamacare. These policies are crushing middle-class families, and a Hillary Clinton presidency would merely be an Obama third term that would deliver the same poor results. Donald Trump is a successful businessman with a solid record of creating jobs and the experience we need to get America’s economy up and running … and get Americans working again.”

Unfortunately, the speeches that night had almost nothing to do with the theme. There was criticism of the Clintons, vague talk of Trump “supporting businesses of all sizes” (whatever that means), and base assertions that Republicans care about jobs and the economy. To quote Peter Suderman, “None of these things are plans in the sense that offer or even suggest a set of specific, plausible, debatable steps that a president might take. That’s what a plan is. A plan is not the end result you hope to achieve; it’s a description of the particulars of how you intend to produce that result.”

What we know of Trump’s economic policy is not much better. His tariff proposals would not protect American jobs, but would make goods and services more expensive for the American population, as all such measures do. The tariffs against American goods that other countries would impose in response would harm American exports and destroy American jobs. His plan to oppose H1-B visas will only raise the cost of hiring people, which will result in less jobs. His support for intellectual property will maintain artificial economic inefficiencies and continue disrespect for real property rights. Labeling China a “currency manipulator,” as Trump intends to do, will strain relations while being enormously hypocritical, given the Federal Reserve’s record of currency debasement.

First Again

The theme of the third night was “Make America First Again.” According to the GOP convention site,

“America has always been an exceptional nation. Our Founding Fathers created a system of government that has protected our liberty, allowed American ingenuity to flourish, and lifted people out of poverty by creating the conditions for opportunity and prosperity. Unfortunately, years of bad policies and poor leadership have weakened our position in the world. Under a Trump administration, America will once again be a beacon of progress and opportunity.”

But there is a dark side to American exceptionalism. Too frequently, it is taken to mean that the United States government has carte blanche to commit atrocities which would land leaders of other countries in front of a war crimes tribunal. As for the Constitution, if it has truly protected liberty and allowed for human flourishing, then why does America lead the world in prison population? Why are Americans facing stagnant earnings? It is fair to point to bad policies and poor leadership, but Trump, like so many other politicians and businesspeople, fails to understand the root of the problem. As long as there is a government monopoly on currency and law, this power will be abused by those who are most capable of abusing it for their benefit.

Most of the speakers failed to speak of making America first again in a sense that was separate from the themes of other days of the convention, and some did not even have the word “first” in their speeches. Only astronaut Eileen Collins spoke of a particular example of restoring American supremacy, but the future of space exploration belongs to the private sector, not to nation-states.

Despite all of this, America is first, and therefore cannot be made first again. But this is not the real problem. America is the prettiest horse in a glue factory of global statism, and Trump has no plan to solve this problem.

One Again

The theme of the final night was “Make America One Again.” According to the GOP convention site,

“America faces serious challenges at home and threats from abroad. In order to turn our challenges into opportunities and keep America secure, we need leadership that will focus on what unites us, not what divides us. Donald Trump will move our country beyond the divisive identity politics that have been holding us back by restoring leadership, building trust, and focusing on our shared love of country and our common goal of making America great again.”

This is exactly the wrong approach. America is more divided than it has been in over a century, and these divisions are over differences which cannot be resolved by compromise and unification. This is because there is and will be no common purpose among Americans; various groups are acting toward cross purposes. The only ways that unity can be brought about are for the United States to balkanize or for one side to violently suppress the other, whether by political means or civil war. No political figure, and especially not anyone as polarizing as Donald Trump, will unify such a divided population, and that which cannot be done should not be attempted.

Great Again

The overall theme of the Trump campaign is “Make America Great Again.” But its approach is misguided at every turn, either failing to recognize the true nature of problems or addressing them in ways which will only make them worse. As this is the latest in a long line of such campaigns by all major political parties, a more appropriate slogan would be “Make America Miss Again.”

Requiem for a Dumpster Fire: The 2016 Libertarian National Convention

On May 27-30, the Libertarian Party held its national presidential nominating convention in Orlando, Fla. Over a thousand delegates from all 50 states attended the convention, along with dozens of guest speakers. Much of this was well and good, though some leftist degeneracy has infiltrated most corners of the libertarian community, and the guest seminars and panels were no exception. But none of this matters much to those who are not libertarians and/or have no interest in the inside baseball of the Libertarian Party. Those people were paying attention to the presidential and vice presidential debates, as well as the election processes for the party’s presidential ticket and national party offices. What they saw, at least from the standpoint of this philosophical libertarian, was a raging dumpster fire.

At the vice presidential debate on Friday, the audio quality was unbecoming of an organization seeking to put people into the White House. William Weld was generally lacking in passion and boldness, supported using the United Nations as a check against corrupt governments in third-world countries, and frequently diverged from straight answers in order to attack presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Larry Sharpe seemed to believe that all punishment should be abolished and misidentified several historical figures as libertarians who were not. Will Coley was a mostly consistent libertarian, but managed to confuse non-aggression with pacifism. Alicia Dearn was more on point, but otherwise unremarkable. All four candidates were soft on the topic of violent revolution.

If the vice presidential debate was bad, then the presidential debate on Saturday was worse. The audio problems continued. Gary Johnson repeated the tired falsehood that libertarianism is social liberalism combined with economic conservatism, supported fixing Social Security rather than phasing it out, claimed that market forces had bankrupted coal companies (and was promptly corrected by Austin Petersen), supported for a consumption tax (which drew a round of boos from the audience), advocated regional banks rather than a free market in currency, declined to condemn the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, had no answer as to whether American involvement in the World Wars was justified, supported government involvement in marriage, favored the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which drew a round of boos from the audience due to parts which violate private property rights and freedom of association), and supported government-issued driver’s licenses (which drew several rounds of boos from the audience). John McAfee defended keeping entitlement programs for older people. Petersen voiced support for a flat tax to fund Social Security, claimed that roads will be unnecessary because we will have jetpacks, and voiced support for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Darryl Perry was wrong on some historical facts, but was generally a strong libertarian. Marc Allan Feldman mistakenly asserted that one cannot fight for one right without fighting for others, claimed that the Islamic religion cannot be blamed for terrorism, failed to realize that political leaders will want to engage in warfare if they perceive it to be in their interest, and was equivocal on the Civil Rights Act concerning private sector discrimination. All five candidates engaged in various degrees of openborders cuckery and said that there is no lesser evil between Republicans and Democrats.

The nominees were chosen on Sunday, and to the surprise of few, Johnson and Weld won, though neither earned a majority of delegate support on the first ballot. In this decision, the delegates decided to choose nominees with the most name recognition in hopes of reaching out to more voters at the cost of presenting a false message of what libertarianism is. This decision says that the Libertarian Party has forgotten its purpose as an educational tool and is instead trying to play the establishment’s game, thinking that the establishment is sufficiently divided against itself to allow an upstart challenger to the duopoly to have a chance. As such, they chose the most moderate, safe, mainstream, establishment candidates they could find to run with the banner of what is supposed to be an extreme, bold, anti-establishment party. But if history has taught us anything about third parties in America, it is that the two major parties always agree that no other party should be allowed to compete.

It would be bad enough if the heresies of Johnson and Weld were limited to their debate responses listed above, but there is much more. Johnson has a history of supporting military intervention against Joseph Kony, saying that Jews should be forced to do business with Nazis, wanting to ban Muslim women from wearing burqas, and growing state government spending as governor. Weld has a history of supporting affirmative action, eminent domain, environmental regulations, gun control, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, and most recently, the presidential candidacy of John Kasich.

It is hard to view this as anything other than a culmination of the hostile takeover of the Libertarian Party by cuckservatives and cuckertarians that has been underway for a long time. To quote myself from an earlier article,

“The cuckertarian denounces anarchist libertarians as utopian idealists, preaching instead a form of limited statism that contains obvious contradictions. Cuckertarians prefer to moderate the message of liberty to reach a wider audience, but in the process they corrupt it into something that a consistently principled libertarian would barely recognize. In the Libertarian Party, this results in moderate or even fake libertarians gaining the presidential nomination.”

Some libertarians may say that this election is a test to see whether libertarians can work within the system, but has this experiment not been run repeatedly for the past 40 years, with essentially the same result each time? This many attempts should be enough to convince even the most stalwart party operative that, in the words of Christopher Cantwell,

“Any libertarian who tells you he is trying to win an election is either lying to you about trying to win the election, lying to us about being a libertarian, or terribly misinformed. As far as we are concerned, elections are a bad thing. We are trying to end them, not win them. …Libertarians are anarchists, whether they realize it or not. Even the ones who are delusional enough to think that they are going to get elected and restore the bloody republic, are little more than useful idiots who are repeating anarchist propaganda for us through channels normally reserved for government. The goal is not to win your elections, the goal is to turn a large enough minority against the legitimacy of the State as to make its continued function impossible.”

Unfortunately, the troubles did not end with the presidential nominating process. At a time when the Libertarian Party most needs itself to be taken seriously by the American people, one candidate for party chair decided to perform a striptease on the convention stage during the process to fill that office. But perhaps worst of all, failed presidential candidate John McAfee thought it wise to attack the core demographic of libertarianism. During his concession speech, McAfee said,

“When I first joined the Libertarian Party, two things stood out very starkly. One, 75 percent of you are men. Number two, 99.8 percent of you are white. Shame on you. Shame on you, and shame on me for never having mentioned it before.”

If anything, white men deserve praise for being the demographic group that is intelligent enough to become libertarians to such a disproportionate extent. What McAfee is suggesting is that there is a white man’s burden, that it is the responsibility of white males to make sure that females and non-whites are educated and behaving properly. But rather than denouncing him as a racist and sexist, as would have been proper, the audience applauded him. Even if his intended point was that more outreach should be done to females and non-whites, there are evolutionary reasons to believe that this will be less than fruitful.

The long-term result of the 2016 Libertarian Party National Convention is hard to predict, but it did nothing to help the image of libertarianism while doing much to pollute its message. As such, the best result in the general election may be one of total failure so that libertarians can reject the approach taken by the party. As always, the path to liberty is anti-political.

On Libertarianism and Punishment

At its core, libertarianism is an answer to the question of when it is appropriate to use force. It says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable, while using force to defend against a force initiator is always acceptable. But what should be done once a force initiator is subdued? Let us explore what libertarianism allows in terms of punishments for aggressors.

Punishment Defined and Defended

The first step in constructing a rational case is to define terms. The Oxford English Dictionary defines punishment as “the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense.” The Merriam-Webster offers two definitions for our purpose: “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution” and “a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure.” So there is an aspect of retribution, of being deprived of something for having deprived someone else of something; and there is an aspect of force, of inflicting or imposing such a deprivation. The question, then, is what sort of deprivation may be forced upon an offender within the bounds of libertarianism.

The first thing to note is that it is improper to punish someone who has not initiated the use of force. Thus, all punishments for so-called “victimless crimes” which are not necessary to stop further acts of aggression should be abolished. The next consideration is what form a punishment may take. In other words, what may one justly be deprived of for having deprived someone else? Rothbard writes[1],

[M]ust we go along with those libertarians who claim that a storekeeper has the right to kill a lad as punishment for snatching a piece of his bubble gum? What we might call the ‘maximalist’ position goes as follows: by stealing the bubble gum, the urchin puts himself outside the law. He demonstrates by his action that he does not hold or respect the correct theory of property rights. Therefore, he loses all of his rights, and the storekeeper is within his rights to kill the lad in retaliation. I propose that this position suffers from a grotesque lack of proportion. By concentrating on the storekeeper’s right to his bubble gum, it totally ignores another highly precious property right: every man’s − including the urchin’s − right of self-ownership. On what basis must we hold that a minuscule invasion of another’s property lays one forfeit to the total loss of one’s own? I propose another fundamental rule regarding crime: the criminal, or invader, loses his own right to the extent that he has deprived another man of his. If a man deprives another man of some of his self-ownership or its extension in physical property, to that extent does he lose his own rights. From this principle immediately derives the proportionality theory of punishment − best summed up in the old adage: ‘let the punishment fit the crime.’”

He asserts this but does not justify it, so let us do so. Libertarianism is a logical construct, therefore it is subject to logic in the form of consistency. To claim a right for oneself while violating the equivalent rights of another person is hypocritical and logically inconsistent, therefore it cannot be rationally advanced in argument. (Of course, this subjective variety of pragmatic contradiction only applies to the hypocrite; it would be absurd to argue, for instance, that all people lose their right to private property just because one thief steals something.) Nor could it be rationally advanced in a court setting, as the legal doctrine of estoppel would prevent it. Thus, a criminal loses his own rights to the extent that he has deprived other people of theirs, and one should be able to kill murderers, beat up assailants, take property from thieves, imprison slave-masters, and so on in proportion to the crimes an aggressor commits, subject of course to liability for attacking an innocent person. For who can rightly object to a taste of one’s own medicine?

Retribution and Restitution

While retribution in kind is within the logical boundaries of libertarianism, a result in which the aggressor is punished and the victim is made whole is self-evidently more just than a result in which the aggressor is punished only. Therefore, it is best for retribution to take the form of restitution, in which a criminal compensates his victims. Sometimes a criminal will agree to make restitution, and sometimes force must be used to compel the criminal to make restitution. In this sense, there can be both the aspect of retribution and the aspect of force described above.

Next, we must consider what constitutes proper restitution. Rothbard writes[2],

“But how are we to gauge the nature of the extent? Let us [consider] the theft [of] $15,000. Even here, simple restitution of the $15,000 is scarcely sufficient to cover the crime (even if we add damages, costs, interest, etc.). For one thing, mere loss of the money stolen obviously fails to function in any sense as a deterrent to future such crime (although we will see below that deterrence itself is a faulty criterion for gauging punishment). If, then, we are to say that the criminal loses rights to the extent that he deprives the victim, then we must say that the criminal should not only have to return the $15,000, but that he must be forced to pay the victim another $15,000, so that he, in turn, loses those rights (to $15,000 worth of property) which he had taken from the victim. In the case of theft, then, we may say that the criminal must pay double the extent of theft: once, for restitution of the amount stolen, and once again for loss of what he had deprived another. But we are still not finished with elaborating the extent of deprivation of rights involved in a crime. For A had not simply stolen $15,000 from B, which can be restored and an equivalent penalty imposed. He had also put B into a state of fear and uncertainty, of uncertainty as to the extent that B’s deprivation would go. But the penalty levied on A is fixed and certain in advance, thus putting A in far better shape than was his original victim. So that for proportionate punishment to be levied we would also have to add more than double so as to compensate the victim in some way for the uncertain and fearful aspects of his particular ordeal. What this extra compensation should be it is impossible to say exactly, but that does not absolve any rational system of punishment − including the one that would apply in the libertarian society − from the problem of working it out as best one can.”

In short, we have a principle that Walter Block calls “two teeth for a tooth,” plus some extra amount. As Rothbard correctly notes, it is impossible to precisely calculate what this extra amount should be, as there is no price system which would allow one to do so and no way to examine a counter-factual world in which the crime was never committed to see what difference was truly made in the victim’s life. A critic may claim that this makes the theory impractical, but in practice this extra amount would be decided by mutual agreement between the criminal, the victim, and any hired agents they may have.

We speak, of course, only of the maximum allowable extent of punishment. A victim has the option to negotiate an agreement with the criminal to reduce or even eliminate the criminal’s obligation to perform restitution.

Forms of Punishment

We have considered matters of material restitution once an aggressor is subdued. But what about matters in which an aggressor is not subdued, or matters where such restitution is impossible?

If an aggressor is active, then any amount of force necessary to subdue the aggressor may be used, for any standard short of this would not only fail to be logically consistent, but would allow an aggressor to succeed simply by escalating the use of force beyond what his victims are allowed to use in defense. The only permissible limitation on defensive force is that which ceases to be completely defensive. Rothbard writes[3],

“How extensive is a man’s right of self-defense of person and property? The basic answer must be: up to the point at which he begins to infringe on the property rights of someone else. For, in that case, his ‘defense’ would in itself constitute a criminal invasion of the just property of some other man, which the latter could properly defend himself against.”

This leads to some implications which many prominent libertarian thinkers appear to have missed. Most libertarians unequivocally condemn the use of torture for any reason, but there is nothing within libertarian theory which does so. What libertarian theory cannot justify is the use of torture against a non-aggressor, such as an aggressor’s family or friends, or someone not known to be an aggressor. Thus, we are restricted to using torture only in scenarios like that of a ticking time bomb which was set by a terrorist. The bomb will detonate before all innocent people could be evacuated from the area, a particular terrorist or group of terrorists is known to be responsible, and the terrorist(s) will not provide the means of deactivating the bomb unless they are tortured. Their active attempt to deny the self-ownership of other people by blowing them up estops them from claiming their own self-ownership, so any means necessary to stop their aggression may be used against their bodies, including torture. However, we should be wary about putting the power to torture into the hands of the state, as its agents have shown on countless occasions that they will not adhere to the above limitations. They have, in the words of Radley Balko, “not used it competently, abused it, and found new, inappropriate contexts in which to use it.”

As with torture, many libertarians condemn the use of corporal punishment as barbaric and counterproductive. Most such arguments focus on the spanking of children as a grotesque violation of the non-aggression principle, and these arguments are not wrong. But for an aggressor who has reached maturity and assaulted someone, these are merely aesthetic and utilitarian concerns which play no role in libertarian theory. Rothbard writes[4],

“In the question of bodily assault, where restitution does not even apply, we can again employ our criterion of proportionate punishment; so that if A has beaten up B in a certain way, then B has the right to beat up A (or have him beaten up by judicial employees) to rather more than the same extent.”

At issue is not a concern of efficacy (for how shall this be measured?) or even deterrence (though this is an important side effect), but a concern for logical consistency.

While there are several offenses for which exact restitution is impossible, in that no amount of money can undo the psychological damage of a rape or a kidnapping, there is no possible restitution for the crime of murder, as it is impossible to make the victim whole in any way. Block writes,

“What the murderer has done, essentially, to his victim is, in effect, steal his life away. If there were but a machine that could transfer the life out of the dead victim and into the live murderer it would be the paradigm case of justice to force him into this machine, and make him disgorge the life he had stolen. It would be a matter of supreme injustice to refuse to do so.”

But no such machine exists (or may ever exist), so there is no result in which the aggressor is punished and the victim is made whole. We are then left to choose between a result in which the aggressor is punished or a result in which the aggressor is free to murder again. Although the victim, being dead, cannot negotiate anything with the murderer in terms of forgiveness or of buying one’s way out of the penalty for murder, this is not an intractable problem. Rothbard writes[5],

“In short, within the limits of his proportional right of punishment, the victim should have the sole decision how much, if at all, to exercise that right. But, it has been pointed out, how can we leave the decision up to the victim in the case of murder, precisely the one crime which removes the victim totally from the scene? Can we really trust his heir or executor to pursue the victim’s interests fully and wholeheartedly, especially if we allow the criminal to buy his way out of punishment, in dealing directly with the heir? …The answer is to deal with the problem in the same way as any wishes of a deceased person are obeyed: in his will. The deceased can instruct heirs, courts, and any other interested parties on how he would wish a murderer of his to be treated. In that case, pacifists, liberal intellectuals, et al. can leave clauses in their wills instructing law enforcement authorities not to kill, or even not to press charges against a criminal in the event of their murder; and the authorities would be required to obey.”

Rothbard neglected to mention one caveat here. While the heirs and the authorities could be obligated not to prosecute or punish a murderer if the victim left a will to that effect, no such limitation exists upon a third party acting solely out of concern for logical consistency and personal safety. As explained above, a murderer forfeits self-ownership, so while the courts may be bound by contract and the victim’s will not to kill a particular murderer, the courts would also have no cause to prosecute someone else who did kill the murderer. A critic may claim that this standard risks the devolution of civilization into a murderous free-for-all, but a person who kills a non-murderer becomes a murderer himself, subject to all penalties thereof. This creates a potent disincentive against killing someone in the name of eliminating murderers who enjoy freedom unless one is absolutely sure that one has the correct target. Another objection is that such a killing deprives a murder victim’s family of what restitution they could get in the form of making the murderer work for them, but an outsider to such an agreement is not necessarily bound by it, depending upon what arrangements he may have with various court companies and defense agencies.

Finally, there is one punishment that one may undoubtedly inflict upon anyone for any reason without any need for judicial oversight: ostracism. To be denied association with one’s fellows as well as with one’s trading partners by said fellows and trading partners can certainly meet all of the above definitions of punishment. Psychologists have found that the pain of ostracism is quite similar to the pain of physical injury in terms of the effect it has on a person. The long-term effects that an episode of ostracism has make it an effective way to enforce beneficial social norms without violating the non-aggression principle.

Conclusion

Contrary to some narrower interpretations of libertarian thought, there is a great deal of room within the bounds of libertarian theory for the punishment of criminals. Not only is forced restitution appropriate for the persistent offender, but there are cases in which corporal punishment, torture, and even assassination could be morally justifiable.

References:

  1. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 80-81
  2. Rothbard (1982), p. 88-89
  3. Rothbard (1982), p. 77
  4. Rothbard (1982), p. 89
  5. Rothbard (June 1978). The Plumb Line: The Capital Punishment Question. Libertarian Review, Vol. 7, No. 5, p. 14