Brief Thematic Note

Brief Thematic Note.

The theme of the site, beyond the mere promotion of libertarian ideals, is discussion of the most desirable and effective ways of propagating those ideals, as well as making those ideals workable and sustainable in the real world. The key things here are “personal responsibility” (“moral restraint” or “self-governance”) and “charity” (in the broadest possible sense: love, kindness, respect). Whether we base these off of normative preferences, deontological ethics, faith and theology, the laws of nature and economics, or pure self-interest, makes comparatively little difference as to how things would actually play out in society.

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Ron Paul, Change Agent

Ron Paul, Change Agent.

From what I can tell, a “change agent” in the lingo of the conspiracy theorist is a person who seems alright on the surface but in reality is bought and paid for by the New World Order/Illuminati/Bilderbergs and whose primary function is to co-opt the opposition and channel their frustration into fruitless endeavors, so that the powers that be may effect the change they desire with virtually no threats to their plan. If someone like Ron Paul can be accused of this, of course, then no one is safe. Which is why using the term “change agent” in this way has little effect. But as an actual agent of change, Ron Paul’s record speaks for itself, I think. No, I don’t mean his legislative record, for this is rarely something anyone should be proud of, and at best serves only to condemn the person in question for the misdeeds they have committed in the name of making law and doing the will of the people. I refer to his other record. His list of achievements in public life outside of the halls of Congress.

The man has single-handedly convinced thousands upon thousands of people to adopt a more freedom-oriented outlook on life, if not also to utterly transform their worldview. And he continues to do so with his latest book, which I received in the mail today not more than a few hours ago. I’m already reading it and in the first chapter he is keen to stress the ideas that liberty and personal responsibility go hand in hand (one might term this a “Virtuous Voluntaryism“) and that an education’s structure and content must be consistent with one another in order to be effective.

I hope that thousands if not millions of people read this book (and/or others like it) and come away from it with a fresh or reinforced opinion on what needs to be done with our education system (hint, the bulk of the fight takes place outside of “the system”), which is in a complete shambles. Because that’s just how many people it is going to take to reform fix restructure completely uproot the current establishment. Doing this is an end in itself, of course. But it is also a means to a far greater goal. Children raised by the state cannot help, on the whole, but to be children raised for the state. Ron Paul forcefully drives home the point that the status quo cannot be successfully challenged without first addressing the wholesale brainwashing of what many deem to be society’s greatest asset: the children. Stop the elites and bureaucrats on this front and victory over them in perhaps every other field of battle is all but assured.

So I encourage you to read this book, to suggest to others that they read it, and once done, to share (your/their) copy with still others (could be wrong, but I think it’s WAY easier to do this with a hard copy than with a Kindle or iPad). That is what I intend to do with mine. I hope and expect to be finished with it within the week.

New Tagline, In Case You Hadn’t Noticed

New Tagline, In Case You Hadn’t Noticed.

Instead of Formerly “Propagating the Philosophy of Liberty”, it is now Advocating a Virtuous Voluntaryism. I had been meaning to change it for a while now. My next post will give a clue as to why I decided there was no time like the present. I hope to (in addition to other promises I have carelessly made) explain at some point exactly what I mean by “Virtuous Voluntaryism”. Please be patient.

Ham-Fisted Coercion and Incompetence versus the Invisible Hand of Self-Interest

Ham-Fisted Coercion and Incompetence versus the Invisible Hand of Self-Interest.

[The following is my entry for the first ever Thorpe-Freeman Blog Contest, originally published at Notes on Liberty on May 22nd. My entry for last month's contest, which was one of two runners up mentioned here, can be read here.]

A Tale of Two Hands

I came across Gary Galles’ recent article in The Freeman about Leonard Read’s analogy of government coercion as a clenched fist, “The Clenched Fist and the General Welfare.” I see a symmetry between this analogy and Adam Smith’s about self-interest unintentionally channeled into market organization, one that is so familiar to free market proponents and detractors alike that it is a common metaphor: the invisible hand.

Government coercion and market organization. Two very important concepts for any libertarian to master. Which one better provides for the general welfare? Smith and Read would contend the latter. The reasons for this are contained in the analogies. As Read and Galles point out, not much good can come from a clenched fist. Only violence and incompetence. It can punch. It can pound. That’s about it. What better description of government? Likewise, as Smith notes, the usefulness of markets is that they do better than government many of the noble things government tries to do, thereby rendering it redundant, if not unnecessary, in those areas. The all-too obvious fist of government regulations and mandates is no match for a more efficient, less obvious hand: self-interest.

The clenched fist of government coercion is quite visible. It holds up the occasional good it achieves, downplays the great expense at which such good comes about, and blames its own inadequacies on “free” markets. The invisible hand, however, is open. It is able to do more, and better, than the clenched fist, without stifling progress in other areas.

Coercion seems like a question of ethics, and organization a question of economics, but they are each, in essence, questions of both. What is unethical for an individual is also unethical for a group of individuals. And if made policy, it is no longer simply unethical, but uneconomical as well, because of the fear,  uncertainty, and even exuberance that arises among market actors, leading to misallocation of resources into unprofitable lines of production.

The questions are irrevocably linked. Even natural, inalienable rights—ethical concepts—are, for our purposes, best understood as constructs devised to protect the economic interests (the pursuit, use, and extension of life, liberty, and property) of individuals. They exist to help us avoid, and ultimately, resolve what are really economically motivated disputes.

Cantillon, Smith, Menger

Mark Thornton’s “Cantillon and the Invisible Hand” suggests that Richard Cantillon was Adam Smith’s influence in his description (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759, and The Wealth of Nations, 1776) of the mechanism (self-interest’s effect of inadvertently providing for the general welfare) that he calls “an Invisible Hand.” In Thornton (2009), this standard interpretation appears to be upheld against several modern theories of the metaphor’s meaning.

With this interpretation and then further development of the idea to incorporate “newer” concepts, we can say that actions taken for personal gain accumulate in the marketplace in the form of signals indicating supply, demand, cost, loss, and profit, leading to various levels of further risk, production, and consumption, which have serendipitous advantages for others participants in the marketplace. The marketplace facilitates trade. In a free market, this means voluntary exchange. Since the Marginal Revolution, it has been acknowledged that voluntary exchanges benefit all parties to them, or they would simply not take place. Thus, the general welfare is provided for.

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, on the subject of landlords’ relationships with tenants, writes Smith (pp. 184-85):

They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.

Cantillon and Smith appear not to have incorporated the idea that landlord and tenant could each receive something they valued more in exchange for what they valued less. So how could they say that tenant benefit at all? Because the things they received were necessities, without which they might have starved.

Before the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, tenancy was often just a higher form of serfdom. Even so, the self-interest of tenants benefited landlords, not just the other way around. And there were relationships besides those of tenants and landlords. Merchants and laborers would have also had mutually beneficent dealings with tenants and landlords. But Smith focused on one aspect of one relationship in his first economic use of the phrase “an Invisible Hand.”

Market’s Good Invisible, State’s Evil Unseen

Because social benefits derived from self-interest go unseen, they are often taken for granted. It is assumed that man must either benefit only himself or rely on handouts. The first implies a zero-sum game at best and a Hobbesian jungle at worst. The second implies charity, but where that alone is insufficient in caring for the needy and the lazy, forced wealth redistribution. To the (sometimes willfully) unobservant, the concept of markets as fortuitous is an unfathomable alternative.

The clenched fist (government) often gestures towards the progress it has made. It has certainly made some progress for some. The favored classes. Individual autocrats placating the coalitions of their supporters, plutocrats pulling the levers of power, or democrats vying for public privilege. But, usually, some stable combination thereof. This progress comes at the expense of that (superior) progress which would have been achieved had producers’ wealth not been expropriated. But, as Bastiat (That Which is Seen and that Which is Not Seen, 1850) and Hazlitt, (Economics in One Lesson, 1946) have shown, this ill effect goes unseen, and so, government-driven progress is made out to be, by those with more influence, larger platforms, and louder voices, equal or superior to market-driven progress.

Why can’t they let things be? The world goes on by itself!

On Pledging my Allegiance to a Totalitarian Regime

On Pledging my Allegiance to a Totalitarian Regime.

On this Independence Day, in addition to watching fireworks, attending the neighborhood barbecue, and having a good time with those who matter most, as well as actually remembering the purpose of the celebration, that is, political independence from a tyrannical empire, I would like to continue being my contrarian nonconformist self and bring something dark and uncomfortable to my readers’ attention.

What could possibly be more (in)appropriate on this day—this Holy and Sacred Day—than to call into question—nay, to utterly denounce—one of this country’s most valued traditions, the recitation of the loyalty oath; the offering of blind, faithful obedience to a contract I did not sign, written by men I neither know nor necessarily respect, and interpreted by men far less worthy? Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance, second only to the Constitution and the Declaration (the Compact and the Articles long since forgotten) in the vast library of hallowed patriotic texts! Are there many other things so dear, so familiar, so comfortable (let alone more so) to the assembled children and to the huddled masses? No, I say! There are few. Very few. Especially today, this Glorious and Celebratory Day!

The Pledge of Allegiance, in it original form, was written by one Francis Bellamy, an early member of the Progressive Movement and an ardent admirer of Abraham Lincoln. It was at the request of the magazine The Youth’s Companion, which was at that time the sole seller of American flags (for which it charged handsomely) to public schools. From the start it is clear that the pledge was born not of patriotism but of monopolistic rent-seeking.

The original text,

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,

makes no allusion toward God, despite being written by a Baptist Minister (defrocked), Francis Bellamy. Mention of God was later added by Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower, at the behest of various pressure groups (fortunately, none of these seems to have been particularly nefarious). I suppose that adding the words “Under God” somehow makes this already-tainted prose seem more American, more acceptable to those whose first inclination should have been to cast it aside as nothing short of idolatry or submission to tyranny.

The pledge incorporates several ideas that should be considered thoroughly disgusting to lovers of liberty. The symbolism of the “Nation” is more important than the actual principles it was supposedly founded upon. Individuals owe everything they are and everything they have to the collective entity referred to as the “Nation”. The states are not Constitutionally sovereign and the self-determination of the people living in them is undesirable. The right of the pledgee to separate himself from something he had no say in, no part in, no matter how evil or corrupt, is explicitly denied. “My Country, Right or Wrong,” as Stephan Decatur once put it.

It is arguable that its one truly positive line, “Liberty and Justice for all,” when written by such a man as Bellamy means something entirely different from what most people mean when they say it. Bellamy, you see, was inspired by the French Revolution’s “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” not the American Revolution’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

He was a proponent of civic religion, not unlike what was instituted during the First French Republic just prior to the Reign of Terror, and an apologist of tyrannies and promoter of lies. Especially those of Lincoln, by Lincoln, and for Lincoln. He was also a cousin to Edward Bellamy, a the author of Looking Backward: 2000-1887, a novel of a future socialist utopia.

But this should come as no surprise. Egalitarianism and authoritarianism often go hand in hand. Our man Francis Bellamy may not have identified himself as a fascist, but, as with most progressives and socialists, this did not stop him from actually being one.

The original salute to the flag, also created by Bellamy was based on the old Roman gesture of unconditional fealty to the Emperor. Similar (or rather, identical, both in appearance and in purpose) salutes were later incorporated into the civic religions of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. The American variant of the Hitlergruß was not dropped by the progressives running the public schools until 1942. The same people who introduced it knew that their purposes would be better served by erasing history. They didn’t want to be perceived as fascists, a perception which would be logical when considering the economic, war, and propaganda policies of the Roosevelt Administration as well as the nationalistic ideas of early progressives such as Francis Bellamy, John Dewey (who provided the education model for Fascism), Theodore Roosevelt (who provided the governing model for Fascism), and Woodrow Wilson (who provided the propaganda model for Fascism).

Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute

So the next time you are at a gathering with a bunch of ignorant (but often well-meaning) flag-worshippers, don’t be afraid to sit down or leave the room in protest. I’m not often in that situation, but the last time I was, I stood up, but kept both hands by my side and my mouth shut. I moved my eyes around, avoiding the flag. It was awkward at first, but I do not regret it. For me, personally, this was originally about my political philosophy. But the more I think about it, it is also consistent with my theological perspective. The Pledge is idolatrous.

I do not mean to be accusatory by this. Certainly, those who have not given clear thought to it may not be intending to say the Pledge in this way. But once they have thought it through, if they still think it is alright to say the Pledge, or are afraid not to say it for fear of embarrassment, I would find it hard not to judge them. If not on the level of their conscience, then on the level of their intellect or their ego.

In addition to the charge of idolatry I add that of blasphemy. The “under God” addendum makes the Pledge a form of taking the Lord’s Name in vain. Quite possibly one of the worst forms, in fact. I think it is much better to curse out of anger or surprise, than it is out of high-mindedness or groupthink. The sin is more forgivable when it is a spontaneous, thoughtless, and forgettable remark than when it is required recitation for all right-thinking Americans.

To paraphrase The Most Interesting Man In The World: I don’t always take the Lord’s name in vain. But when I do, I prefer to say “God Damn.”

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

If at First You Don’t Succeed….

Congratulations to Notes on Liberty consortium co-editor Brandon Christensen on winning the first ever Thorpe-Freeman Blog Contest, put on by the Foundation for Economic Education in May. That’s $250 cash plus some well-deserved name recognition for Brandon and the blog. It’s a great piece about how things are actually looking up for liberty if you take a couple steps back to look at the bigger picture. I recommend that you check it out. Here it is at NOL, and here it is at FEE.

Also check out some of the other stuff going on with Brandon and NOL. It’s success is a microcosm of the ground gained by the idea of spontaneous order, as touched on in the winning essay. If I may put it so boldly for the otherwise humble blog. It’s a diverse crowd, there’s plenty of disagreement, but all of them are influenced by this idea to some degree. You could even say they were brought together by it.

And if you’re in the mood, check out some of the other contestants’ work.

Received honorable mention:

How Commerce Expands Culture by Andrea Castillo

Literal and Symbolic, Part 1 by Dan McFerren

My own submission (also published originally at NOL; I hope to get it up here soon):

Ham-Fisted Coercion and Incompetence versus the Invisible Hand of Self-Interest

I am hoping I will have the time and the gumption to make a submission for this month’s contest as well. I would need to re-read the rules and suggestions, pick out some material to start with, hone my abilities, and then get to researching and writing. The question is, whether to submit again under NOL, as I would be honored to do (but I wonder if they would be less likely to pick another submission from the same blog as before) or to submit under my own revitalized and rejuvenated site (in the hopes that it will be something new to the contest judges, whose evaluations, after all, are subjective). I really don’t know at this point. I’ve got more than two weeks to decide. Either way, it looks like the competition is fierce!