Steve G.

Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

A Modest Libertarian Proposal: For Secessionists, Separatists, Radical Anarchists, Anti-Government Absolutists, Conservative Neo-Republicans, Randian Objectivists, Tea-Baggers, “Me, First & Last” Social Darwinists, and Conspiracy Theorists

In Corruption, Democracy, Libertarian, Libertarian Party-US, Libertarian Politics, literature, Personal Responsibility, Politics on November 30, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I did a LOT of driving this last week-end, a LOT. This gave me a great deal of time to think and process recent experiences. One conclusion that I did arrive at is that if a group of people gather together for a common cause (other than masturbation) and then spend their day in a mutual masturbation circle jerk, they will have accomplished nothing.

On Saturday, I went to a libertarian gathering which seemed to be more about libertarians telling themselves how successful they have been at furthering their cause even if they haven’t been able to actually get anyone elected to a significant office. There were no strategies or concrete ideas for getting anyone elected or for spreading the libertarian idea to a wider audience. While I met some good people, I found that the main value for me to have made the trip was in observing and listening to the others there. What I did not hear were any words which spoke of libertarianism as being about anything except “me”. One speaker even lived up to the cliché view of what current libertarians are when she spoke about reading Ayn Rand and realizing that caring about others or helping to make the world a better place has no value.

On Sunday, I drove to my old home town to help some friends do some work on a house. This house has been a special place for a long time. In 1972, a group of college friends found a place to live in off-campus. During the 70s, it was pretty much a commune for the local science fiction group. For probably 15 years it was home to a rotating group but the house was always there for us. For most of the last 20 years, it has been the permanent home to a few of the gang but the house has remained a constant in the lives of many. I moved away and moved on with my life but 17 years later I came back and the group still gathered at the house on regular annual times. I have never lived there or even spent a night there but, when the message went out that there would be a work day on the house, I was there. I gained nothing, at least in objectivist terms, by helping out but it was a small gesture of thanks for what the house and the people who have lived there have meant to me.

The stark contrast between how the two days were spent was startling. A second conclusion I arrived at is that I think that there is more to be gained by working together to build a better world around us than there is from seeing the world as a place where it is ok for the strong to prey on the weak. The week-end reinforced what libertarianism meant to me when I was first attracted to the movement.

Thirty years ago, I had the profound honor of hearing a man named Ed Clark speak at Texas A&M University, courtesy of the Memorial Student Center’s Political Forum committee. Rudder Theater was full that night. There were many there who were, like me at age 20, preparing to vote in our first Presidential election (and for me, my first government election as I briefly lived in the United Kingdom in 1978 – 79). This man was the candidate for a new political party, and was that Party’s first candidate to be on the ballot in all 50 states. The Libertarian movement and idea was getting some national attention because of how “radical” and fresh it was. They had a vision of a limited government which would combine the best facets of conservative fiscal policies with progressive social policies. In a radio interview, Clark described libertarianism as “low-tax liberalism”. Hearing him speak in person was a remarkable experience for me. Not only were his ideas progressive and forward-thinking, they were inclusive and logical.

To this day, I still call myself an Ed Clark libertarian. Unfortunately, the Party pushed Ed Clark and his liberal / moderate wing out during their 1984 convention. If you ask people today what a libertarian is, most of what you will hear are descriptions of a radical, conservative, neo-Republican lunatic fringe group. In 1980, it looked like the Libertarian Party might, one day, have a legitimate influence on American government. Coming up on 2010, it looks like we have crawled beyond the fringe to create our own unique brand of American political lunacy, on a par with the Anti-Masonic “Know Nothing” Party of the 1800s. With this in mind, I want to make a modest proposal to all of those who hate government, despise paying any taxes, want to “be off of the grid” and want to be left completely alone by every government.

We will GIVE you a 5,000 square-mile plot of land in Alaska. Not enough? How about 10,000 square miles? We will set aside that land and will legally declare it to be independent of the United States of America or of any other nation of the world. It will be free land on which you can settle and create your own society with a complete absence of government. You will not be subject to any law or be a part of America in any way… no taxes, no military service, and no government interference of any kind. We will also shoulder the costs to relocate anyone who wants to leave the United States to participate in this experiment. This will be a one-way, one-time ticket. We will take all of you to the border of your new homeland and let you enter it freely and of you own volition. Further, we will assume all of your debts, (up to, say, $25,000). If your debts are greater than that, so what? You will be moving to a place where you will be free from debt collectors. What will your credit score matter up there? We will arrange for the sale of your American property, both to free you from the burden and to help pay for the costs which The United States will incur on your behalf so that you will not be beholden to any other person or nation. In short, we will do everything necessary to help you sever all ties between you and the United States. We will give you what you are asking for in its entirety. You can be completely free from any and all government control or responsibility. By doing this for you, however, there would be a lot of changes that you would need to be aware of.

Remember, infrastructure is created by governments. There will no roads, electricity, water, sanitation, waste removal, hospitals, medical care, medicines, schools, postal service, police or fire departments, judiciary, defense, phones, internet or any other public “improvements” other than what you will be able to create for yourselves. In your new haven, there will be no government, no law, no order, and no society which you do not create for yourself.

We understand that you don’t like anything that is “tainted” by being provided to the general public, and / or bought or created through the use of “Federal Reserve Notes” (and yes, this week-end I heard someone talking about their new business and saying that they would not accept “Federal Reserve Notes”). So you will not be allowed to take any United States currency with you because you will not, of course, need it. You will not be allowed to incur any additional debt through credit so, in preparation for your move, you will be limited to dealing on a cash only basis. If you want to convert it all to gold or silver or gumdrops, you can, but remember, you will have to carry everything you will take in with you. I assume your economy would be based on the barter system. I will be curious, though, about what you will be able to barter with to get AT&T to provide you with communications capabilities, as one example.

Your American citizenship will be permanently revoked, as will those of any of your families, dependents, and friends who join you. As such, you can never again vote in any American election. You can never again enter the United States without proper documentation and / or visas. If you try, you will be subject to being arrested and deported back to your homeland, the same as any other illegal alien, you know, like Mexicans. You will never again receive any government payments, benefits, healthcare (federal or military) or assistance which would “force” you to possess any documentation, utilize our immoral currency or rely in any way on the government which you hate so much. This means that you will never receive any social security payments, Medicare, retirement funds, insurance payments, not even the annual payout made to citizens of Alaska because, of course, you will be citizens of your own non-nation. Oh, and about that land, you will each be able to possess as much of it as you can take and hold onto. You will have the absolute freedom to make your land your own BUT you will not, of course, be given any actual legal title to the land because to give you such title would require a legal and judicial system… and you wouldn’t want that either, would you, because they are also creations of government.

While I suppose that we could allow you to take in a suitcase of your own clothes (whatever you can carry), to fully honor your John Galt desires, we would not allow you to take any tools or other products created by our industrial mass production system. You see, we would want to respect your wishes to not allowing you to be burdened with anything so ignoble as having been purchased with “Federal Reserve Notes”. Maybe we could provide some of you with forges but how you would carry them into your new nation without tools or carts made by tools that you have made for yourself, I don’t know. Even if I had the answer to that, though, you wouldn’t want to know it because you want be pure, untainted and left entirely to your own devices. Each of you, after all, is John Galt.

Of course, you would be completely landlocked by the United States but that, again, would only be out of respect for your demands for complete independence and your wishes to have no “foreign entanglements”. We would thus ensure that you would be free of the temptation and taint of dealing with other nations or, even worse, with the United Nations. No, you will be completely and entirely free. You will be given your own country and cut off from any influence, hindrance, or assistance from anyone outside of your own borders. Imagine if “Escape from New York” was about turning Manhattan into a self-contained country instead of a prison… but without all of the inconvenient reminders of civilization and development like buildings and roads.

We will give you all of it. All you would have to do is give up everything else… oh, and allow those of us who do not believe as you do, those of us who do not share your vision of an anarchist “Heaven on Earth”, free to carry on our ridiculous desire to actually improve the society that we are part of. You will all agree to leave us alone in this immoral world which we believe can be improved. We leave you alone and you leave us alone… for ever (or until you all die off). Do we have a deal?

Now, for those of us who are left when the dust of the mass migration settles, let’s work together to figure out how to make the government we do have better. Let us create a fair and equitable tax system. Let us work on the problem of creating a society which benefits all of the people. Remember, political and philosophical extremes create unworkable absolutes. Some of us believe that the only way to make the system better is by working within it. We can have less government, lower taxes, and a beneficial society. All we have to do is be willing to work for it.

I, for one, will not abandon my fellow Man. My desire for a limited government does not mean that I reject the idea and value of government altogether. I believe in government and I believe that it can be improved, that it can be designed to function effectively. Remember, we get the government that we deserve. In a free society government is the creation and responsibility of a free people. If our government does not work properly, it is our fault for not caring enough to figure out how to make it better. It is also our responsibility to make government work for the people it serves, not be served by the people who work under its system. I am willing to stay here and do what I am capable of doing to make it better for EVERYONE… even those who don’t believe as I do. How many of you out there will help me? Can we work together to create a practical, rational and realistic idea of libertarianism and, from there, a practical, rational and realistic idea of libertarian anarchy which can be “sold” to those outside of our movements? I think that we can and I, for one, am ready to start trying.

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor” 

© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M. Blavier

The Problem With The Economist

In Crazy Claims, Economics, Libertarian, literature, Media, Politics on June 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm

On page thirteen of the May 30th–June 5th edition of The Economist, an editorial aimed at describing the threat posed to our economy through excesses of central planning, the author writes the following paragraph:

Moreover, even the most stalwart defenders of the free market, including this newspaper, admit it has shortcomings that only the government can address.  The financial system requires close oversight, or crises will destabilise it (see page 75).  In recent years, such oversight has often been absent or fragmented.  Only government can enforce competition rules, insist that business and consumers limit carbon-dioxide emissions, or intervene to make health care available to those too sick or poor to afford it.  And the current crisis calls for aggressive and temporary fiscal and monetary intervention that is not justified in ordinary times.

The first sentence of this paragraph alone contains three grave problems.  Firstly, since when has the government been able to fix things?  Even liberals and conservatives readily admit that the government is at best inefficient and at worse downright detrimental.  Ask the average person if government is good at solving problems.  The person doesn’t have to be a libertarian to laugh at such a question.

Secondly, the most “stalwart defenders of the free market” do not make the sort of concessions that this magazine wishes to make.  I should know, being a stalwart defender of the free market myself.

Finally, The Economist calls itself a “stalwart defenders of the free market.”  But how can it be one, when it itself believes that government can “intervene to make health care available to those too sick or poor to afford it.”  The government does not possess some magic button that can make healthcare cheaper, and in fact every intervention the government makes into the healthcare field ultimately raises the costs (or decreases the quality) of healthcare.  And this hurts the poor more than anyone else!  No, The Economist is not a “stalwart defenders of the free market.”  If you want an example of a magazine that stalwartly defends the free market, I would recommend The Freeman.

I estimate that a point of confusion for some people arise when they hear a libertarian say, “The free market is not perfect.”  Even “stalwart defenders of the free market” admit that the free market is not perfect.  But what precisely does that mean?  Does it mean that the government is better, more effective, or more efficient than the market in some area(s)?  To jump to that conclusion is to misunderstand the libertarian who correctly says that the free market is imperfect.

When I say the free market is not perfect, what I mean by this is that the free market will not solve all of the world’s problems.  The free market does have an anti-discriminatory effect on businesses (i.e. businesses operating on a totally free market tend to ignore race, finding it more profitable to hire whatever employee is best for the job), but it will not likely have much of an impact on men’s hearts, for example.  This does not, however, mean that we should initiate some litany of statutory laws aimed at eliminating prejudice within men’s hearts, nor that the government would be more effective at eliminating prejudices than the market.

The market will also not fully eliminate addiction to alcohol, the making of bad investments, the promulgation of “improper” religious beliefs, et cætera.  Thus, the free market is not “perfect.”  But it’s still better than the government—at everything!  (Even archists like John Stossel have admitted to this last point.)  And this is because the state is a political institution, and thus lacks the same incentives that one would find in an economic institution.  (I am indebted to Franz Oppenheimer for the distinction between the political means and the economic means.)  Political institutions always inevitably allow politics to affect decision-making.  Whenever a politician grants something to, say, a corporation, you can be sure that the decision was affected by, if not based on, politics.  Beyond this, politicians lack any meaningful mechanism for evaluating the utility of their actions.  The market, on the contrary, has a pricing system that reflects consumer demand relative to supply, and it is this pricing system that allows market actors to make rational choices.

The market is not perfect because it is not, in short, a god.  Thus, there is no need to worship it, or to pretend it is anything other than it is.  But the fact that the market is not a god does not therefore imply that the state is a god, or that the state can even make up for the market’s imperfections.  The market, at least the truly free market, has no “market failures,” it just has natural limitations based on its nature.  It is, after all, merely a mechanism for most efficiently allocating resources in a world of scarcity; it is not a magic cure-all that can save humanity from, say, bad thoughts or addiction.  But then, neither is the state.  The same natural limitations we find in the market are found in politics, except that in politics they are ultimately far more detrimental to social harmony and human rights.  The market may not be a god, but that doesn’t mean the government is better than it—at anything.

—Alexander S. Peak

John Hospers and the Libertarian Temperament

In Crazy Claims, Libertarian, literature, Personal Responsibility on May 26, 2009 at 9:17 pm

I recently came across an article by former Libertarian Party candidate for president Mr. John Hospers in which he discusses the interaction of both anarchists and minarchists within the libertarian movement.  There are, as one might expect, some good things and some bad things to say of Mr. Hospers’s analysis.  I will first discuss and provide insights on what I like about the article—specifically his call for alliance between the two aforementioned libertarian factions.  I shall then explain what I see to be the failings of Mr. Hospers’s analysis.

Let me begin by saying I agree with Mr. Hospers when he says,

Anarchism, as I see it, is an issue for the far future as far as practical application is concerned.  If we get to the point where 9/10 of the present government functions are government functions no longer, then we can consider the question whether what remains is best performed by government or by private individuals and organizations.  But it is virtually certain that we shall never reach that point if we do not present a united front to the world.

This is a point Mr. Harry Browne made often, and it is a point with which I agree.

As an anarchist, and one who is optimistic for the long-run but pessimistic in the short-run, I do not believe we will achieve even minarchy (i.e. limited, constitutional government) within my lifetime, let alone anarchy (i.e. the replacement of the entire state with private, voluntary institutions).  Therefore, my own anarchism is explored for predominately philosophic reasons.

That’s not to say that I do not also embrace it for practical reasons.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m not only an anarchist in theory but also an anarchist in practice.  That is to say, I “live anarchy” every day.  In my every interaction with people, I always eschew aggression.  I do not steal, I do not rape, I do not accept welfare, and, if I were to get elected to some legislative body tomorrow, I would refuse to accept even a cent of tax-payer money for the job.  I engage in voluntary action at all times.1

But I recognise that America is not going to accept anarchism yet.  The people are, unfortunately, not yet independently-minded enough to come to a total and complete rejection of all aggression entirely, nor even is a 50% majority yet going to make such a commitment.  Far too many people believe in continuing the war on drugs (as just one of many examples) to as of yet come to a total rejection of aggression.

But this is no reason for me to turn my back on anarchism.  Ultimately, reason compels me to embrace anarchy as the only ethical and practical system of government.  And I see no harm in promoting this view, in explaining politely and hopefully-convincingly to people how the alternative institutions we radical libertarians advocate would function in the real world.

I believe there is no inconsistency in being an anarchist—in promoting anarchism—and in allying myself with minarchists.  As Mr. Hospers implies, should we ever get to the point where the vast majority of the government has been eliminated, at that point we’ll have to get down to the nitty-gritty of what divides anarchist libertarians from minarchist libertarians.  At that point, we’ll have to end our alliance.  In the meantime, Mr. Hospers is right: we should work together toward our common goals.

At the same time, I also hold that there is nothing wrong in trying to convince minarchist libertarians that libertarian anarchism is superior to libertarian minarchism.  And I will attempt to do so because to achieves my own aims.  Thus far, I’m proud to say, I have helped to turn no less than four limited-state libertarians into no-state libertarians.

It should become immediately clear that I therefore have two goals when it comes to the promotion of my political views: (1) to convert non-libertarians into libertarians and (2) to convert minarchists into anarchists.  Since I’ve had far more success with my second objective than my first, I can only conclude that the second objective is easier to accomplish than the former.  But the former is just as important, and if I were somehow able to convert the statists of the world into minarchists en mass, I would consider this a triumphant victory for Liberty.

Because I recognise that both of these tasks are difficult, I try to be respectful when engaging someone in political discourse.  I want to win people over, and I realise that name-calling and temper-tantrums is not the way to achieve this.  So you can imagine just how embarrassed I was by many of my fellow Ron Paul Revolutionaries when I was reading blogs and whatnot two years ago!  I wanted Ron Paul to win, and unfortunately many of his followers were acting like fourth-graders in their discourse with random Internet-users.

Political discourse has been a prime concern of mine for quite some time now.  It’s been such a concern because I truly want us to achieve Liberty, and I know that this will not happen as long as we push people away through rudeness.

This brings me to the unfortunate flaw in Mr. Hospers’s analysis. He readily recognises a problem exists involving discourse. However, he seems to assume that the problem is entirely on the anarchists’ end.  Although he does not say so, he implies that minarchists are always respectful and rational in their outlook while anarchists are chaotic, rude, childish, and emotionally-driven.  I do not believe this stereotype holds.

The reality is much more nuanced.  There are some anarchists, naturally, who are quite rude with people—even with fellow libertarians, much to my chagrin.  There are also plenty of anarchists who are extremely respectful individuals.  Could you imagine the mild-mannered Jeffrey Tucker throwing profanities at a political opponent, or stamping his foot?  I certainly cannot.

Yet this is precisely how Mr. Hospers paints all of us anarchists.  Writes Hospers,

There is either an unwillingness [no the part of anarchists] to enter into calm sustained argument about it [the virtues of statism], or a childish frenzy in which they conduct argument, which makes it difficult for anyone to enter into it with them without being at the receiving end of name-calling and numerous personal slurs.  I have seen this tendency reach the point of petulant screaming and stamping of feet.

Hospers does not say that this is simply a problem with specific anarchists he’s encountered, but rather that this is a “psychological aspect[] of anarchism.”  The implication is clear: if you are an anarchist, you are likely immature.  Even if you’re not immature, it’s not because anarchism does not entail this personality defect, but because you’ve somehow suppressed your natural anarchist tendency to embrace immaturity.

But this is simply not so.  For one thing, I would estimate that most libertarian anarchists are those who were at one time libertarian minarchists.  I know that I was a minarchist up until July of 2007, and that I only came to embrace anarchy after years of reflection.  Slowly but surely I came around to conclusion after conclusion that this or that aspect of the state was not necessary, that this or that regulation actually caused more harm than good.  For me, straw that broke the camel’s back was the environment.  I had held that free-market environmentalism was a good and necessary thing, but kept telling myself that we needed the state so that we could have appropriate regulations where needed.  The only problem was, I couldn’t think of a single regulation that only the state and nothing else could provide.  At that point, I had no alternative but to consider the matter of anarchism once more, to consider it objectively and intelligently.  I did not embrace anarchism whimsically, but only after a great deal of reflection and thought.  Even after embracing it, I still gave the matter a great deal of thought and reflection, as I believe was appropriate.  I still question it every once in a while to this day, but every time I do, I come back to the same conclusion: it is the only system that conforms to the way humans really work, the only system that conforms to human nature rather than trying to mould humans in some other image.  It is, in short, the only system that can work.  (After all, as we all know, government doesn’t work.)

Thus, since most libertarian anarchists were at one time libertarian minarchists, either Mr. Hospers would have to hold that their personalities changed upon converting to anarchism or that they were just as immature when they were minarchists as they are now. I do not believe Mr. Hospers wishes to concede either of these points.

For another thing, it is simply incorrect to say that all communication breakdowns between minarchists and anarchists are on the anarchists’ end. Just as there are some anarchists who are clearly immature, there is a great deal of minarchists who are just as immature. Believe me, I have engaged in my fair share of discussions with immature minarchists, people who embarrass me as a libertarian just as much as the immature anarchists do. I do not pretend, however, that there is any uniform minarchist psychological mindset, or that all minarchists are appropriately represented by the immature ones I’ve encountered. In short, some anarchists and minarchists alike engage in unproductive discourse, while plenty in both camps understand that mindless name-calling gets us nowhere.

Mr. Hospers writes, “I have certainly noticed, as doubtless many of you have, a recurring personality pattern among those who label themselves anarchists.” But, alas, if I were to paint minarchists under the same broad brush that Mr. Hospers uses to paint anarchists, would this be anything other than stereotyping?

Where, pray tell, is the respectable discourse in that?

_______

1Among other things, Mr. Hospers claims in his article that anarchists engage in “a strong, usually…neurotic, rebellion against all forms of discipline, especially self-discipline.”  If this point about “living anarchy” proves anything, it is that this Hosperian statement is (in addition to being extremely insulting) fundamentally wrong.

Live-blogging: Hamilton’s Curse: Chapter 2: Public Blessing or National Curse?

In Books, Censorship, Corruption, Economics, First Amendment, History, Libertarian, literature, Live-blogging, Spending, Taxation, US Government on May 22, 2009 at 4:32 pm

It’s unfortunate that economics is such an esoteric subject, for it certainly impacts all of us.  It’s perhaps all the more unfortunate because of the ease with which the political class can confuse and dupe the public, thereby exploiting the masses.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo begins the second chapter of his Hamilton’s Curse noting that “[g]overnment debt is every politician’s dream” because it allows him or her to “buy votes by spending on government programs…that will make him popular now, while putting the lion’s share of the cost on future taxpayers, who must pay off the debt” (p. 38).

The result of this is obvious enough: we, the taxpayers, never truly grasp how expensive are the programmes with which we’re presented, and so the debt keeps mounting.  The national debt, at the time DiLorenzo was writing his book, had exceeded $9 trillion, with unfunded liabilities mounting around $70 trillion (p. 39).

Then there’s “the biggest government program of all—war” (Ibid.).  The American taxpayer would be much more likely to demand peaceful relations if they were presented with “an explicit tax bill for it” (Ibid.).  Thus DiLorenzo writes, “Taxpayers feeling the sting of gigantic wartime increases would be much more inclined to pressure their governmental respresentatives to limit their military adventures to national defense purposes, as opposed to imperialistic ventures based on more dubious motives” (Ibid.).  And this is why Jefferson held that “the perpetuation of debt, has drenched the earth with blood” (p. 40).

What has any of this to do with Alexander Hamilton? It was precisely Hamilton who “championed,” in pursuit of his goal of bigger, more centralised government and imperial glory, “the creation of a large national debt” (Ibid.).  He did this in two ways:  He (1) encouraged the federal state to assume all of the debt from the old government and (2) encouraged the central government to assume the war debts of the various states (pp. 41, 46).

His first proposal was very popular, as it allowed the political class to become much more wealthy.  Federal politicians and other New Yorkers learned of the federal government’s plans to pay off old war debts at full face value long before the information could filtrate to the rest of the country and the many holders of old war bonds.  These members of the political class, with their inside information, quickly entered the game of speculation, buying up these government bonds around the country from “haplass and unsuspecting war veterans at prices as low as 10 percent of full value” (pp. 41–42).  Republicans and Federalists alike profited from the graft.

This did not sit well with James Madison, however, who proposed that the original bondholders also be paid at full value.  Madison was denounced “as a dreamer” (p. 44).

Hamilton’s second proposal was not as popular as his first.  For one thing, this entire generation saw the various states as free and independent countries, with the federal government being merely a meeting of the states to better secure their basic and collective needs, such as defence or the coining of a uniform currency (p. 46).  For another, the states that had already paid off their debt, such as Virginia, did not want to have to socialise the debt of the other states that had not been in their opinions as dilligent (p. 47).  As such, Hamilton’s assumption plan was defeated in Congress no less than five times (p. 48).  It did not eventually pass until Hamilton struck a deal with Jefferson to allow the U.S. capital to move from New York to Virginia, something Jefferson had desired but the Hamiltonians had, until that point, been blocking (Ibid.).

The reason Hamilton wanted the newly centralised government to assume vast quantities of debt was that “he wanted to tie the wealthy to the state as a permanent, big-government lobbying class” (p. 45).  The primary government bondholders, after all, would be the more affuent citizens, and they would have an “interest in continued borrowing and continued tax increases to assure that they would be paid their principal and interest” (Ibid.).  Therefore Hamilton, not surprisingly, also rallied for higher taxes, “including the notorious tax on whiskey, a carriage tax, and a national property tax (which spawned a tax revolt in massachusetts—the Fries Rebellion)” (p. 43).

Hamilton defended the “[p]lundering of the working class with onerous taxes” because he saw Americans as too “indolent” and held that these harsh taxes would encourage the people to work harder (Ibid.).  Of course, the opposite is true.  The more people have to surrender in taxes, the less motivated they are to work hard.  What’s the point, they ask, when Uncle Sam is taking it all anyway?  Perhaps one of the worst aspect of these changes was the opportunity for a standing army of tax-collectors to be created, precisely what Hamilton had used to squash the Whiskey Rebellion (p. 44, cf. 33–36).  DiLorenzo cites this as “one of the chief reasons why the Anti-Federalists never trusted Hamilton.  A standing army of tax collectors could (and eventually would) destroy states’ rights altogether” (p. 44, cf. 48).

As I expressed in my previous entry, I’m not personally fond with DiLorenzo’s use of the term “states’ rights.”  Governments, after all, cannot possess rights.  Only individuals—and the voluntary associations they create—can possess rights.  The founders understood clearly that states did not and could not possess “rights,” and thus, when they drafted the tenth amendment, they clearly referenced powers rather than “right.”  What this Hamiltonian centralisation of power threatens, therefore, are the powers that were reserved to the states under the U.S. Constitution.

In any event, there were those who opposed Hamilton’s nationalist schemes.  Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania called Hamilton’s assumption plan “subversive of the rights, liberty and peace of the people,” a view “endorsed by the Pennsylvania legislature” (p. 47).  (Luckily for Gallatin, Hamilton was unsuccessful in his drive to “have Gallatin arrested and put on trial” (Ibid.).)  John Taylor of Virginia pointed out that the Hamiltonian schemes “would result in ‘the accumulation of great wealth in a few hands,’ accumulted through ‘a political moneyed engine.’  It would create British mercantilism in America, in other words” (p. 48).

DiLorenzo also addresses the despicable Sedition Act, which the federal government used to silence Jeffersonians and other Republican opponents of the Federalists’ nationalist agenda.  Many innocent men were arrested under this law, including at least twenty-one newspaper editors, “all of whom supported Jefferson….  No Federalists were harassed by the Sedition Act” (p. 50).  This act, along with the Alien Acts (collectively called the Alien and Sedition Acts by historians), was what lead Jefferson and Madison to author the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves of 1798, thereby nullifying these laws within their state borders.

DiLorenzo attributes the reactionary policies of the Federalists to the 1800 Republican victory.  On pages 51–53, he details the history of national debt in the United States from the time of Jefferson to the present, showing how, over time, the amount of debt the government has opted to take on at any given time has ratcheted upward.  He concludes on page 53 that perpetual government debt “essentially relies on forced labor,” turning today’s citizens into tax serfs, and points out that governments have historically relied in the “hidden tax” of inflation to pay off debt, knowing that citizens do not notice this form of taxation in the same way they notice direct taxes.  Finally he spells out the destructive effects of this approach on pages 54 and 55, and draws the connection between Hamilton’s bad policy ideas and the destructive policies of modern Keynesians on pages 56 and 57.

Overall, I found the chapter stimulating.  Authors do not often comment, especially in any great detail, on the problems with large national debts.  This is probably because historians and political theorists often do not have much background in economics—DiLorenzo does, and is able to incorporate his understanding of this otherwise esoteric subject into his historical analysis.

—Alexander S. Peak

The Establishment

In Art, History, literature, Poetry, Protest on April 5, 2009 at 9:54 pm

We’re
Living in the Future and We’re
Living in the Past.
These are the dark Ages where
Man is trapped behind Cages of
Political Caste.

The
System rages on while
She remains steadfast.
A Rebellion She does wage at
Every Crook on the World Stage; their
Crimes are oh! so vast.

And She whispers in your Ear,
“The Revolution is inside of You.”

—Alexander S. Peak

Live-blogging: Hamilton’s Curse: Chapter 1: The Rousseau of the Right

In Books, Corruption, Courts and Justice System, History, Libertarian, literature, Live-blogging, Police State, Protest, Taxation, US Government on March 31, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Although no other founder has had “a bigger impact on American society” than Alexander Hamilton, his impact has nevertheless been “almost universally negative from the perspective of those who would like to think of America as the land of the free,” people like you and me (p. 9).

Thomas J. DiLorenzo continues with this theme as he embarks on chapter two of Hamilton’s Curse, the title of which comes from an article by political scientist Cecelia Kenyon in the scholarly journal Political Science Quarterly (pp. 22–23).

The defining characteristics of the British Empire, the same British Empire American revolutionaries found so liberticidal that secession was their only option, were “dictatorial monarchy, centralized power, imperialism, and economic mercantilism”—the very same set of conditions Hamilton fervently hoped America would adopt (p. 9).  Thus, if Hamilton was to convince the public to adopt these conditions, he would have to use rhetoric with striking simularity to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s conception of “general will.”  Thus, Hamilton discussed his policies in terms of “the public interest” literally “hundreds of times in [his] speeches, letters, and writings” (Ibid.).  This is, of course, an ancient tactic of statist oppressors, but one that often proves successful nonetheless.

Thus DiLorenzo writes, “Hamilton was an American mercantilist, and he and his party (and its political heirs, the Whigs and Republicans) advocated special-interest policies that would primarily benefit politically connected merchants, manufacturers, speculators, and bankers at the expense of the rest of the public.  The ‘public interest’ rhetoric was (and is) an indispensable political smoke screen if they were to achieve political success.  The wool must be pulled over the public’s eyes with ‘public interest’ rhetoric if mercantilism were to succeed.  Jefferson and his political compatriots, such as John Taylor, saw through it” (pp. 23–24).

We learn a bit more about Hamilton in this chapter, for example we learn that he was a slave-owner (pp. 10–11) who became a founder of the New York Post with the purpose of smearing his rival Thomas Jefferson.  We learn that Hamilton was an advocate of outright nationalism (p. 13) who wanted America to “a kind of ‘king’ [a permanent president] who would yield supreme power over all people, who in turn would have essentially no say in how their government was run.  The states would be mere provinces whose governors would be appointed by and loyal to the ‘king.’  Under such a regime, all political power in the nation would be exercised by the chief executive and his circle of advisors” (pp. 16–17).  And we learn that Hamilton had no qualms with lying in order to achieve his goals.

Hamilton, for example, prior to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, assured Jeffersonian localists that the various states would still be sovereign under the Constitution, even though he clearly had no personal opposition to the seizure of power by the central state.  Moreover, he promised that the newly-proposed U.S. Congress would never contemplate “marching the troops of one state into the bosom of another” for any reason (p. 20).  This, it turns out, was a bald-faced lie.

Hamilton, who wished to have a huge national debt and ever-higher levels of taxation, “was instrumental in getting Congress to enact numberous excise taxes, a national property tax, and other taxes, including a special tax on whiskey” (p. 34).  Unfortunately for western Pennsylvanian farmers, who used whiskey as their means of exchange (i.e. money), this made basic commerce too difficult and thus destroyed trade.  Needless to say, the farmers rebelled by refusing to pay the insane tax.

This act of independence and rebellion infuriated Hamilton, who wanted to fight the rebellion with “overwhelming force” (Ibid.).  “So at Hamilton’s urging, President Washington personally led an army of more than 13,000 conscripts to Pennsylvania, accompanied by Hamilton the chief tax collector,” the very thing he had promised the New York ratifying convention less than a decade earlier would never happen (Ibid.).

We really shouldn’t be surprised by this corruption.  Hamilton had no love for restrained government, and instead aimed to “build the foundations of a new empire” (p. 14).  Both Jefferson and Hamilton, DiLorenzo tells us, “fully understood what was at stake:  Would the American government mimic the British and pursue ‘national greatness,’ ‘imperial glory,’ and empire, as Hamilton preferred?  Or would the primary purpose of government be the modest Jeffersonian one of protecting the lives, liberties, and property of its citizens?  Both men understood that empire would mean that government would become the master, rather than the servant, of the people, as it had been for generations in the Old World” (p. 12).  The difference between the two men is that Hamilton wanted the involuntary servitude associated with statism to be foisted upon the haplas masses; the Jeffersonians did not.

Hamilton was no doubt disappointed by the Philadelphia Convention, therefore, which rejected his goals.  As Robert Yates’s Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Convention and Senator John Taylor’s New Views of the Constitution of the United States (1823) point out, the Founders understood themselves to be creating a system wherein each of the states retain their sovereignty.  Although Hamilton proposed his “permanent president,” the Convention whole-heartedly rejected the proposal and the philosophy of “executive dictatorship and monopoly government” (p. 17), instead viewing the Constitution as “a compact among the free and independent states and not as the creation of a ‘national’ government” (Ibid.).  It was never their intention to create a “central government whose laws would always trump the laws of the states” (p. 18), so it should come as no surprise that Hamilton, following the convention, called the Constitution “a frail and worthless fabric” (p. 14)—it didn’t achieve his hypernationalist goals.

Unfortunately today, the central state is treated as a Leviathan whose legitimacy trumps all below it, from the various state governments down to the individual.  Thus, although Hamilton initially saw his objective as having failed, in the end Hamiltonianism has unfortunately succeeded in transforming the American republic into the American Empire.  Hamilton the nationalist, Hamilton the mercantilist, Hamilton the militarist (pp. 28–29, 32), would be gleeful at the position of the modern American state.

I cannot say that this chapter comes without a personal objection.  On page 27, DiLorenzo states that the doctrine of implied powers, as advocated by Hamilton and his Federalist Party, bore “liberal judicial activism.”

I must ask, why do people still insist on implying that judicial activism necessarily expands the state?  It seems to me that it is judicial restraint that allows the Congress and the president to expand state power—in other words, the judiciary restrains itself from overriding the unconstitutional actions of the other two branches.

Liberal judicial activism was used back in the day to limit the power of the state, used to say that the unconstitutional big government policies of the other two branches were just that—unconstitutional—and were thus null and void.  Liberal judicial activism was used in the early years of Roosevelt to fight his unconstitutional New Deal.

Judicial restraint, conversely, was used—more often then not—to pretend that various big government programmes of Congress and the president were in fact perfectly fine vis-à-vis the Constitution.  Thus, the judicially restrained court effectively restrained itself from nullifying these laws.

It therefore seems to me that the Federalist Party brought us the birth of conservative judicial restraint.

DiLorenzo also fails to point out, when speaking of state sovereignty, that states do not actually possess “rights,” that rights can only be possessed by individuals and the voluntary associations they form.  (Surely, not even Mussolini would be so cavalier as to claim that the state is a voluntary association.)  The Founders clearly understood this, as the tenth amendment, which DiLorenzo himself addressed on pages 17–18, refer to the reserved powers of the states, not their “rights.”

DiLorenzo’s failure to mention that states do not actually possess rights and his willingness to associate judicial activism with either the Federalists or Hamilton’s doctrine of implied powers appear to be the only drawbacks to this chapter.  DiLorenzo’s attack on Hamilton remains well-deserved, and my view of Hamilton has, especially in light of his vicious and vile attack on the admirable Whiskey Rebellion, sunk to all new levels.

—Alexander S. Peak

Coming soon

In Books, Libertarian, literature on March 16, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I just received an advance copy of Judge Napolitano’s upcoming book, “Dred Scott’s Revenge” to review. It’s obviously very interesting subject matter and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Dred Scott's Revenge manuscript

Dred Scott's Revenge manuscript

Live-blogging: Hamilton’s Curse: Introduction: The Real Hamilton

In Books, Corruption, History, literature, Live-blogging, US Government on March 12, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Today I begin my live-blogging journey through Thomas James DiLorenzo’s most recent book, Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution—and What It Means for Americans Today.

The book, 209 pages in length and dedicated to Dr. Murray N. Rothbard, “a brilliant scholar and tireless defender of the free society,” is about exactly what you would expect given the title.  Alexander Hamilton, revered today by both nationalists on the right and social engineers on the “left,” was in actual fact a manipulative engineer for the undermining of the Constitution and Liberty.

On the one side, we had Thomas Jefferson—a defender of limited, decentralised government; of “strict constructionism” with regards to the Constitution; of free trade and minimal taxation.  On the other, we had Hamilton.

Hamilton wanted for America a strong, centralised state—the more centralised, the better.  He took this so far that, at the Philadelphia Convention, “he proposed a permanent chief executive who could veto all state legislation—in other words, an American king” (p. 2).  The contrast between Jefferson and Hamilton could not be more stark.

DiLorenzo explains that Hamilton “wanted to use this centralized power to subsidize business in particular, and the more affluent in general, so as to make them supportive of an ever-growing state.  As treasury secretary, he was a frenetic tax-increaser and advocated government planning of the economy.  He championed the accumulation of public debt, protectionist tariffs, and politically controlled banks; belittled politicians like Jefferson who spoke too much of liberty; and believed that the new American government should pursue the course of national and imperial glory, just like the British, French, and Spanish empires” (Ibid.).  Given that the United States have adopted all of these evils, it should come as no surprise that DiLorenzo quotes George F. Will as saying we now live, despite our honouring of Jefferson, “in Hamilton’s country” (pp. 3–4).  The American Revolution has been betrayed, and in large part thanks to the surviving influence of Hamiltonianism (p. 4).

It seems DiLorenzo was moved to write this book as a means of dispelling various myths that have arisen surrounding Hamilton’s legacy.  For example, Ron Chernow has called Hamilton “the prophet of the capitalist revolution in America,” and neoconservative commentator David Brooks has claimed that Hamilton somehow single-handedly “created capitalism.”  Correcting this error, DiLorenzo points out that Hamilton’s “hyperinterventionist approach to the economy was anything but capitalism” (p. 5).

Thus far, it appears my only main contention with DiLorenzo is going to be with his use of vocabulary.  On page six, Professor DiLorenzo associates liberalism with its big-government, modern-day imposture by referring to the Brookings Institute as a liberal think tank.  This would be more reasonable if the author were to place “liberalism” in quotes, thereby distinguishing it from the real liberalism of Jefferson, Thoreau, and Mises.

Professor DiLorenzo also describes traditional conservatism as an ideology opposed to big government.  It seems to me, on the contrary, that traditional conservatism arose as an ideology aimed at defending and restoring the ancien régime.  What better or more succinct way to describe Hamilton’s objective?  I can think of no man who better exemplifies in my mind “traditional conservatism” than Hamilton, save for possibly Thomas Hobbes.

Perhaps the author understands this, but chose to describe conservatism as an ideology favouring smaller government because, after all, self-described conservatives often do use small-government rhetoric, even if their policies do not reflect said rhetoric.  Reagan, for example, called government “the problem,” and it’s not hard to overlook the fact that his big-government policies never lived up to his limited-government talk.  In any event, Crown Publishing Group—the publisher of this book—appears to be a conservative-oriented publisher.

This, it currently appears, is my only notable problem with DiLorenzo’s book.  His main thesis, that Hamilton and his Federalist Party betrayed the revolution, is certainly credible and deserves to be promoted.

—Alexander S. Peak

Man, Economy, and State with Power and Markets Re-released

In Austrian Economics, Books, Economics, literature on March 12, 2009 at 5:57 pm

The Ludwig von Mises Institute has just yesterday re-released the Scholar’s Edition of the classic Austrian School text Man, Economy, and State with Power and Markets.  The new release has better binding than the previous release, and comes with a snazzy new cover.

Writes the Institute, this book, authored by the late radical libertarian and economist Murray N. Rothbard and consisting of 1440 pages, “provides a sweeping presentation of Austrian economic theory, a reconstruction of many aspects of that theory, a rigorous criticism of alternative schools, and an inspiring look at a science of liberty that concerns nearly everything and should concern everyone.”

In addition to purchasing the book here (or the study guide by Robert Murphy here), you can also read the entire book online for free.  This is, of course, in keeping with the Institute’s view that intellectual property (e.g. copyrights) are illegitimate.

Here’s the same book in .asp format and .pdf format.

–Alexander S. Peak