Why Freedom?

Sometime during the late 80’s or early 90’s, George H.W. Bush delivered a speech in which he waxed eloquent about what is generally called the fall of communism, the wave of revolution that swept Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War.  In this allocution he said that tyranny fell “not to the force of arms, but to the force of an idea:  Freedom works.”

Freedom works.  This is the line of thinking that has been used by many in the political discourse.  Does freedom work?  Currently we’re in a time when many claim that it has not worked, and thanks both to the verbal jujitsu of the Republican Party and the stupidity of Boobus, this is widely accepted wisdom.  Never mind the fact that what the GOP calls a free economy is riddled with aspects of Fascism.  Our current situation, despite the popular perception, is not proof of the failure of freedom, and we should not feel obligated to give in to the Keynesian orgy presently taking place.  Wherever freedom has been tried, it has worked.  

But we need not belabor the point, for this utilitarian angle is not only useless, it is dangerous.  More on the danger in a bit.

If the “freedom works” argument is irrelevant, what is?  I would argue that the argument for freedom is found in the concept of natural rights—the right of self-determination, the right not to be robbed or shot by anyone, including the State.  From this perspective, it really doesn’t matter if freedom “works.”  The salient point is that freedom—a system of voluntary mutual exchange, one that respects individual rights and private property rights—preserves each man’s natural rights.  Period.  End of story.

Now let us return to this “Freedom works” utilitarian claptrap.  The contemporary Right, and even figures like Ludwig von Mises, have enthroned so many of their arguments on this premise.  Its danger lies not in its untruth; indeed the truth of the matter is not what I intend to dispute.  The problem is that this line of thought presents a beautifully engraved invitation to those who are unfriendly to laissez-faire capitalism:  The minute something goes wrong, they can blame freedom (they usually say “capitalism” to try to make it sound evil, a la Karl Marx) and say that we can no longer tolerate this irresponsible freedom.  

And so it’s time for the real friends of laissez-faire capitalism to stand up and say that this is truly the system that best preserves the rights that belong to us and cannot be taken away.

This is an age-old battle, really, one that started during the Exodus, when the wandering Israelites begged for a return to slavery because it was so much easier than their new-found freedom.  But nothing in life that’s worth a damn is easy, and some things are worth any price.  Freedom—from violence, theft, coercion, and other hobbies of the State—is one of them.

Henry Hazlitt and the unseen

One of my Christmas presents was Henry Hazlitt’s very excellent Economics in One Lesson.  The essential point of this work is the importance of understanding the broader consequences of economic decisions, and not just the immediate effects.

For instance, certain spread-the-work policies do give jobs to more people, but without an actual increase in production no one has gained anything in terms of real wealth.  Certain union policies regarding division of labor also create the same appearance.  Union rules might make it necessary to hire two men to perform a job that could be efficiently completed by one.  Yes, someone got a job out of it, but the customer spent more money than he needed to, which has a negative impact on his limited resources to benefit the economy in other ways.  It is true that these kinds of policies can benefit certain individuals, but only at the expense of society as a whole.

These wider-reaching deleterious effects are what might be called the “unseen” effects of these policies.  They are not invisible, mind you, but rather go unnoticed for whatever reason.

Perhaps the tendency for these kinds of things to go unseen explains the frequent false accusation that free market economics, and in particular Austrian economics, is atomistic.  In truth, though, it seems as though the aforementioned make-work projects are the actual atomistic approaches, for they take account only of the most obvious effects of a given situation without realizing the broader consequences which are involved.  They look at the benefit to one particular man or group and not at the consequences for the entire economy.   That sounds pretty atomistic to me.

The miracle that is the free market

I spent the early part of this evening running some errands.

First I had to pick up my car from the shop. It needed a few minor (thankfully!) repairs. I got to the shop while the mechanics were still finishing up. While we were waiting, the owner was chatting me up about some musical questions. He’s working on buying a particular instrument for someone who needs it and wanted my help. I’m afraid to say that I was a bit out of my depth in this particular case, though I promised to follow up.

When we finished talking business, we kept batting the breeze nonetheless. My mechanic is an old school Philadelphian—hard working, honest, direct, and as good-hearted as they come. He’s the kind of guy that looks you in the eye the whole time he’s talking to you. I instinctively trust him. The mechanic finished up the car, we finished chatting, I paid a very reasonable charge for the work, and we all bid each other a Merry Christmas, and that was that.

Car fixed. Now what’s for dinner? After mulling over some options I decided to go right back to the hoagie shop where I had eaten lunch. While the workers—both of them immigrants—worked on my sandwich, we chatted about tonight’s biggest, brightest full moon of the year.

Now before I go any further I want to assure you that, while I’m an introvert, I’m no loner, and I have plenty of friends. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them all. But nevertheless a thought struck me about my various vesperal visitations. What characterizes my relationship with these several proprietors? It is frankly, as if we are all buddies. This is the miracle of capitalism.

The free market gets a lot of bad press these days, but this is the result of a careless conflation of crime with free exchange. Corrupt business leaders getting in bed with government deserve to be called out (though one could certainly argue that this is not representative of a truly free market). Wal-Mart customers stampeding a janitor to death justly rouse disgust. But in its essence, the free market is a system of voluntary exchanges. The voluntary aspect of this makes each party responsible for himself and dependent upon the others. Each person is there because he wants to be, and this, coupled with the obvious desire to succeed, helps to build relationships.

This is not true in any other economic system. Surely it is not true in feudalism, nor is it true in socialism, which micromanages economies right down to who works in which job. Voluntary exchange would not even exist on an anarcho-communist paradise island, since everyone would be forced to pool resources.

The free market is the sole guarantor of voluntary exchange. It liberates us, so that we are no longer slaves, but free men—no longer slaves, but friends.

Milwaukee funny money?

Certain neighborhoods in Milwaukee are contemplating the establishment of their own currency. They would just print the money themselves, and it would be accepted at local businesses.  The great mystery to me is how such “monopoly money” could have any purchasing power whatsoever.  I’ve been wondering the same thing about the American dollar for years.

Black Friday absurdities and economism

Early Friday morning, a Wal-Mart employee was knocked over and killed in a stampede of crazy shoppers. Every year this obscenity seems to get even worse. As a proponent of the free market, I find the the yearly Christmas shopping orgy to be an embarrassment, not only because it takes a wonderful system and boils it down to a base, lowest common denominator kind of thing, but also because this rampant consumerism, what Albert Jay Nock would call “economism,” is perhaps the most powerful argument in existence against the free market system.

So why support the free market? In short, the free market allows the intelligent to make smart decisions which are not only economically sound but also beneficial to growth in wisdom, virtue, and all those other largely mummified ideals. But the people who know this were sleeping in the small hours of Friday morning when the nuts were out stuffing shopping carts full of junk.

Is global trade of food on the verge of shutdown?

Judge for yourself.

This was sent to me via a Freedom Force meetup email.  Advice came along with it to stock up on food stuffs and cash.  Frankly, I never know how far to go with this sort of thing.  Maybe all I really need to do is invest in gold, find a way to get paid in pounds sterling, and buy a plot of fertile land.

Remembering Murray Rothbard

Just last week, I finished reading Murray Rothbard’s grand discourse, The Ethics of Liberty, surely a must read for anyone who fancies himself a libertarian, or, as some of us prefer to call ourselves, anarcho-capitalists. Rothbard’s Ethics is highly intelligent, intensely insightful, and at times painfully consistent. In short, it is the work of a real philosopher, a man who took the problems of life seriously, and didn’t just write books in order to hypnotize his readers into some sort of political voodoo.

I have been thinking a lot about Murray Rothbard these days. I did not know him; I didn’t even know who he was until a few years ago. Nevertheless, if there is one person whom I wish I could converse with but cannot about the economic turmoil we presently face, it would be Murray Rothbard. To these kinds of issues he brought all the common sense of Ron Paul, with the addition of devastating wit and a dash of pizzaz. (Who would not be charmed by his choice of hypothetical names such as “Hohenzollern” and “West Ruritania?”)

Rothbard devotes the final chapter of his Ethics of Liberty to discussing the prospects for a libertarian future, a future full of peace and prosperity and devoid of the State. He completed this work in the early 1980’s. At that time, the issues of hyperinflation, gas shortages, high unemployment and other economic tortures were quite present in the American mind. The government had quite openly, over the course of the preceding six decades, gotten its grubby mitts on the market, and the end result was sheer turmoil and Peanut Man’s “Misery Index.” In those early years of the Reagan administration, only modern liberals and fools (but I repeat myself) seriously thought that more government was the solution to the country’s woes. The prospects for true liberty, enthused Rothbard, were thus quite promising.

Not ten years later, Rothbard delivered a triumphant lecture after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he was, if anything, more encouraged than ever before.

Fast forward to 2008. The economy is collapsing. Markets are falling, even after the Federal government tried to fix everything with its $700 billion magic wand. Banks are collapsing because they gave bad loans–loans that were often promoted by Leviathan. One might be tempted to say that this marks the end for all forms of Central Planning, that the Emperor is naked and everyone now sees the plain truth of the matter.

Alas, I cannot bring myself to be so hopeful. Indeed, I dare say that the Rothbardian hopes of the 1980’s and 1990’s have now eluded us, that we are in a decidedly worse position than we’ve been in for decades. Why? Because, while the government has, yet again, been sticking its grubby mitts in the marketplace, and while yet again the result–utter calamity–is the same, all of this meddling has been advertised by the present administration as “free market principles.” Jeff Tucker quite astutely observed the other day that the mindset of the present GOP sees the free market not as an entity which can function on its own, but rather as a policy to be enacted by bureaucrats.

The sharper knives in America’s drawers will be able to perceive all of this; nevertheless, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer-Voter-Serf only know that this economic downturn has come at the end of an era in which the government has been giving itself credit for enacting “free market” policies. Surely the socialists are licking their lips.

Were it not for the unjust prerogatives which the State enjoys, we could sue the Republican Party for false advertising, if not for fraud, too.

I suppose that we are left to hope that, somewhere up there, Murray Rothbard is organizing all the right principalities and powers so that, someday, somehow, the victory of liberty will be upon us. Until then, it’s hyperinflation and Central Planning for the lot of us.

How would you like some hyperinflation with that unemployment?

The porked-up bailout bill has passed, and Comrade Bush has signed it.  Along with the $700 billion bailout plan, there are tax breaks and a number of ridiculous provisions.  The stock market thanked Leviathan by losing even more ground.  So much for your 401k.  Those who feared for the future of certain corporations and their employees have gotten their wish.  But again, we must face the fact that the economy is going to be bad no matter what.  Add to this the stunts necessary to pay for this bailout.  They’re not going to raise taxes, nor could this be paid for with taxes.  Instead, the Federal Reserve will print more money (again).  We will not only have a recession, but also hyperinflation and possibly a depression.

But don’t worry.  Wall Street got what it wanted.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Government Lies

The Senate is quite proud of itself.  In the wake of their having passed a porked-up bailout package, they are nearly tongue-tied with self-admiration for all that they are doing for us.  The news media is helping in this lying scheme.  I think it was on Tuesday that I saw a headline on MSNBC that stocks rebounded on hopes of passage of a new bailout package from the Senate.  This is hogwash.  Stocks rebounded because there were lots of bargains to be bought on the market.  But heaven forfend!  We mustn’t let the word get out that markets actually fix themselves!

“Ah, yes, but have you looked at your 401k lately?” ask many monetarists, neo-conservatives, plutocrats, and their sympathizers.   Well, I don’t have a 401k, but if I did, I would still recognize the need for the market to correct itself.  We are, presently, faced with a choice between going through some bad times now or some worse times later.  I’d rather have a 401k go bad now and improve on more solid ground, than have one that becomes worthless after the dollar collapses thanks to the depredations of the U.S. Treasury.  This only seems like common sense.  Here one can find the following comment by a very sensible 401k holder:

As someone who today lost thousands of dollars in 401k savings, I say thanks to all who voted against this bailout. I truly understand the national and international downside to the market corrections that will occur. However, these corrections are necessary without further Government intrusion. Capitalism has not failed but Democrat Social engineering has been shown for the failure it is. It’s time for voters to wake up and see that voting for the liberal socialist Democrats has a high price.

The only caveat I’d offer to this comment is the fact that I think “democrat” should be spelled with a lower-case “d,” since not only the Democratic Party but also the Republicans have been a part of the State-sponsored looting scheme:  confiscatory tax rates (that’s any tax rate above 0%), monetarism, imperial globe-trotting, welfare, corporate welfare, funding football stadiums (well, I guess that’s on the local level), and the like.

Incidentally, last year Ron Paul was talking about the impending financial doom while Rudy Ghouliani, et al, were cackling into their microphones at the GOP debates.  Ron Paul is now the one that all the financial shows are bringing on as a guest, while, Rudy Giuliani……..hmmm……what’s he up to?……….

Last I heard, he was offering to be a “consultant” on how the bailout money should be spent.

And what about the “maverick” John McCain?  A reader sent me an email earlier today, saying that McCain could seal the election for himself by standing on the steps of the Capi-toll building and opposing this latest round of corporate welfare.  Alas, he is not only going along with it, he’s doing everything he can to get the credit for it.

The Monks of Springbank: Accomplishing What Leviathan Never Could

Over at the New Liturgical Movement, I have posted a story about the Abbey of Our Lady of Springbank, a Cistercian monastery in rural Wisconsin.  They were featured this morning on the Today show:

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The amazing thing about these monks is that they have achieved everything that Leviathan has tried to achieve but could not.  They noticed printer cartridges selling for obscene mark-ups, so they started selling them at reasonable prices (instead of enacting price controls a la Richard Nixon).  They teach people how to ride horses, and they even do charitable work and give useful employment (not make-work projects like FDR) to those who need it.

This is all part of a great tradition of the Catholic Church:  helping to build up the community.  It is accomplished through hard work and the discernment of what the existing needs are in a given area, and this kind of success depends at least in part upon the glorious principle of subsidiarity.  Of all of this, the government is completely incapable.

One further note:  after the fall of Rome in the 5th century, A.D., those who rebuilt western civilization were not the State-worshipers or the flag-wavers, but indeed they were the monasteries, who preserved all manner of things, including learning.

So, three cheers for the monks of Springbank.

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